Album Review: The Birthday Letters – Yearning For Vitalists

The Breakdown

A solid effort from an artist who clearly has it in him to deliver musical genius and some of this album isn't too far off.

Close, personal, warming and packed with beautiful moments, the new 8 track album Yearning For Vitalists from The Birthday Letters hit’s all the marks whilst remaining understated and unpretentious. Encompassing elements of folk, indie and electronic music, akin to the likes of Ben Howard, Bombay Bicycle Club, The National and Neil Finn, there’s a translucent, lightness to Joseph Hughes’ work (the man behind The Birthday Letters), it’s refreshingly breezy and summery whilst also possessing a yearning, nostalgic melancholy which gives the tracks depth. At times upbeat, at times thoughtful and melancholic, there’s a lot of ideas to digest for a short album.

Opening with the slow burning title track ‘Yearning For Vitalists’, Hughes’ quickly introduces the self-aware, quirky at times sci-fi tinted and reflective lyricism which is prevalent across the album. Awash with modulated fingerpicked acoustics, inventive chopping flecks of electronics, deep bass and a pulsing 808 kick, this is an experimental-folk soundscape which introduces The Birthday Letter’s world in a hypnotic, elegant haze.

‘The Baby Was Born In The Moss’ introduces a lighter, pop-rock side to Hughes’ repertoire, contrasting the albums intro. With some beautiful splashes of guitar, samples and subtle electric guitar riffs which are instantly comparable to the work of Aaron Dessner, the tracks catchy vocal line, upbeat feel and melodic nature is given a at first hidden, more thoughtful depth.

Elsewhere on the album ‘Orangutans’, one of the album’s highlights captures an etherial aura, mixing Hughes’ folk sensibilities of intertwining fingerpicked drums and a gently swaying beat with washing, reverb tinted synths and choral vocals. A beautiful blend of varying elements reminiscent of Bombay Bicycle Clubs ‘How Can you Swallow So Much Sleep’.

‘Rotroscopic’ see’s the album take another move closer to bedroom pop with a crunchy electronic beat which underlines the strummed acoustics, tremolo tinted electric guitars and bright xylophone. Hughes’ honest, heartfelt, quirky and unapologetically real lyricism shines once again – effortlessly poetic and introspective whilst describing real life under a romantic yet explorative gauze.

‘Living Like A Mystic’ brings a The Strokes-esque energy to the album whilst ‘Botanising The Alphabet’ showcases more of Hughes’ understated yet affecting chilled indie-folk writing. The track moves gradually into some excellent intertwining, fuzzy guitar lines in a euphoric, experimental Bon Iver-esque climax.

The album closes on a delicate and moody note with ‘Jane And Dian’ – a track packed with musical beauty and lyrical subtlety. Opening with a muted beat under a singular piano, the album’s closer sets a downbeat tone for Hughes’ vocals as the track eps and flows gently towards some stunning, atmospheric guitars which burst the track into life. As the beat gradually grows the track builds a stunning soundscape of atmospheric splendour which finishes the album on a fittingly otherworldly note.

8 tracks which showcase musical depth, lyrical prowess and a deep understanding for his art, Yearning For Vitalists covers a lot of ground. Genre merging but ultimately rooted within the realms of indie-folk, the album is beautiful at it’s heights with some stunning interweaving guitar work and excellent, understated but nonetheless, catchy, well thought-out melodies. At times, upbeat indie-pop and others, downtempo reflective folk, the album jumps in style and tempo but always feels cohesive with Hughes’ distinctive vocal pinning the whole thing together. A solid effort from an artist who clearly has it in him to deliver musical genius and some of this album isn’t too far off.

Listen to The Birthday Letter’s new album Yearning For Vitalists below:

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