George van den Broek, who has recorded under the moniker Yellow Days since he was a teenager, wanted to remove all the showy clutter and excess from his work and get back to writing songs. Straightforward, elemental songs about the subjects and scenes that have enchanted popular music since the dawn of the form: love, a chance encounter, a dance, the spark between two people. Working alone, playing all instruments, George recorded like he “was 15 again” and the result is Slow Dance & Romance, a five-song EP of love tunes that honor two of his heroes, beloved reggae lover-man Alton Ellis and Motown genius Stevie Wonder. They’re perhaps the gentlest, dreamiest songs in his catalog, music to slip away to. Raised in Surrey—“out in the countryside”—George is an entirely self-taught musician who fell in love with American R&B when he was young. Soul pioneer Ray Charles quickly became his north star, though he also found inspiration in contemporary iconoclasts like Thundercat and Mac DeMarco. He picked up the guitar at age 11 and even now, at 23, he possesses taste and curiosity beyond his years. As liable to reference Marvin Gaye as unsung Queens pianist Don Blackman, George is a repository of musical trivia and chops. It would be fun just to listen to records with him. Thankfully, he makes them too.
Since 2016, George has steadily released singles and albums. Across three albums—Harmless Melodies (2016), Is Everything OK in Your World? (2017), and his major-label debut A Day in a Yellow Beat (2020)—he’s weaved in and out of genres like psychedelic rock, bedroom pop, and, of course, rhythm and blues. He’s collaborated with indie rapper Bishop Nehru and beloved musical star Shirley Jones; his single “Gap in the Clouds” appeared in the trailer for season two of Donald Glover’s trippy, critically acclaimed series Atlanta. More than a particular sound, George’s early work is defined by boundless energy, a beginner’s mindset that acts on intuition. On “Gap in the Clouds,” his voice embodies this energy—he warbles, he yells; there’s grit and texture in his wailing; he pushes to the very top of his register, unbridled. “When you first start singing, your voice is like this wild animal you want to tame,” George explains. Slow Dance & Romance, then, is in some ways an exercise in control. During the pandemic, George has dedicated many hours to getting into the cage with his voice, to bring it under his thumb as a tool he could deploy, rather than an inner beast to unleash. “What you’re hearing on this record is the maturing of my voice,” he says. Time under the tutelage of Sam Cooke and Al Green records, studying how those men control their falsetto, has paid off.
Working on his voice led him to a new appreciation of Stevie Wonder. “He’s not projecting his voice,” George observes. “Not really. It’s about breath control and how his melodies are working.” As a result, Slow Dance & Romance is a mellower record that explores the friendlier feelings of adoration and admiration for the one you love. If you listen to “Gap in the Clouds” and then the EP’s title track, George’s new vocal strength is apparent. “Slow Dance & Romance” describes two people meeting at a dance, at the especially quaint time of a quarter to nine—a set-up as timeless as they come. In the pivotal moment, George sings, “And before they said a thing, like magnets attracting they kissed one another.” The care with which he sculpts the six syllables in “like magnets attracting” is one of the most breathtaking and satisfying moments on the EP, a testament to the time he’s spent working on his voice. His phrasing is classic, steadfast, adorned just enough. In particular, the delicacy in his upper range on that third word feels like a new revelation from an artist who is evolving with each project.
On paper, Slow Dance & Romance feels like a significant change in direction for an artist who was striving for bigger and bigger with each release. His last project, A Day in a Yellow Beat clocked in at over an hour of music, across 23 songs. Looking back on it now, George observes a “teenage dynamic” at work. “I wanted to prove that I could play, that I could use complex technique and reflect some of my musical idols, like Herbie Hancock. You can hear that I’m trying to write something really good—and a lot of it is really good—but there’s a lack of coherence,” he says. Perhaps he got in a bit over his head—it was his first time working with a major, after all—but it led to a realization that he needed to set ego and the other bullshit aside.
Recording this new EP alone allowed him to focus and reaffirm what he loves about music.
“Soul Man,” the opener of Slow Dance & Romance, is an airy, stripped down tune—just drums, guitar and bass—that explicitly puts George in the lineage of his heroes. “I wear my heart on my sleeve,” he sings softly. As a true student of the game, he knows that emotional candor is the core of R&B. “Love & Heartbreak,” another standout on the EP, captures the feeling of Philadelphia soul as he layers his vocals in order to confess to being hurt before. George van den Broek really is a soul man.
But not just a soul man. Slow Dance & Romance is only the first offering in a series of EPs, all built around a specific sound or style ranging from psychedelic rock to jazz-funk. Apple Pie, due out on TK, is a five-song suite of rubbery bass lines and drum machine programming that’ll rattle your car windows, if you take it for a spin. “Just Getting Started” is an immediate highlight, a kind of haunted funk track about letting go to enjoy romance. Soul Smile, the fourth and final EP, is blusier, more of a rock album. George’s voice echoes over watery electric guitar riffs on the title track, and on “Cool Down” he throws some vibraphone into the mix, sonically embellishing the sentiment—because nothing’s cooler than vibes. The five tracks on Soul Smile sound as if they could have been just recently discovered in some dusty forgotten box of tapes in Sausalito. And what would a psych-rock project be without a little epic number? “My Love Is Strong,” the closer, runs over six minutes, a drifting and dreamy affirmation for young lovers, complete with a little spoken word. George compares the EPs to “different homes on the same street.” Prepare to spend the rest of the year, hopping from house party to house party.
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