Written by: Dave Cantrell
Having first waded into the many and varied waves of music as a teenager, having been immediately and forever caught up and thus finding by a certain age – let’s say late 60s – that you’ve been immersed up to your heart for over half a century now, some conclusions might arise, a couple flecks of understanding that help explain the what and why of this compulsion that keeps one’s ears and what’s between them primed for excitement. Aside from the obvious – songs so good they’re like earworm prophets come to sustain your soul, rhythms with such precise and genuine drive they could out-perform a Maserati, hooks strong enough to hoist you up by the collar and drop you all breathless and aquiver in a whole new realm – the most gratifying aspect for this writer in all this ‘music addiction’ business, and exemplified by the work before us today, is to witness the continuing evolution of a band and/or artist, especially when combined with (if I may put it bluntly) a kickass debut album.
Welcome to the world of Yama Uba, the newest project from former Ötzi co-conspirators Akiko Sampson and Winter Zora whose debut LP Silhouettes drops today, January 24th, like an imperative, crisply written, imperishably urgent bulletin wired from the Psychic Eye headquarters in Oakland CA like a cable of what’s possible to all those willing to receive it. Compelling, concise, exciting at every turn, the album also, if perhaps counterintuitively, exhibits a steadiness of purpose as if fashioned with that rare ‘calm in the eye of a storm’-like demeanor despite the unsettling chaos growing outside their – and, really, everyone’s – door.
Immediately hypnotic, “Disappear” opens the door to this pair’s invincible allure. Propulsive and forlorn in equal measure, Akiko’s vocal finding strength in the vulnerable anger of despair while Winter’s guitar somehow manages to chime with desolation as 1978 finds a fresh new home in 2024. That vibe of resilience dancing fighting fucking in the shadows with the specter of desperation pervades throughout for the simple reason – or so we assume – that that particular pas de deux is unavoidable for anyone paying the least attention. In any case, the tension that results, its friction and frisson, as it often does and indeed should, accounts for Silhouettes‘ compulsive pull.
“Shapes,” arriving on “Disappears”‘s heels, limned by a nervous edge and driven at its center by a bass that seems to take the place of air itself, has an almost brazen subtlety to it, “Shatter” begins moody and more or less stays there but in a manner inventive – and plainly brilliant – enough to find this writer reaching for phrases like ‘dark avant wave’, the glorious “Laura” builds and builds on its brimming bass and glassine electric guitar opening until it becomes perhaps the song we hope to hear live once that blessed opportunity arises while “Claustrophobia” sports a deft, almost narcotic density that, yes, duly reps its title but also happened to find me dancing around in my mind like some shameless djinn lost in its slithery contours which, one must admit, is no bad thing. However, while all of Silhouettes truly rates, every track finding its own unique way to stand out – how “Isolation”‘s phat synth intro finds a peculiar but perfect balance with those, well, isolated chromatic pings of guitar, for instance, which isn’t to mention it being the album’s finest example of Zora’s occasional saxophone accents – two cuts can’t help but strike as particularly notable: the band’s cover of The Passions’ immortal “I’m in Love with a German Film Star” that is, literally, the album’s centerpiece, and album ender “Angel.”
A full minute longer than any song preceding it, that closer, a bit experimental, a lot passionate, takes Yama Uba into a somewhat daring territory which, no suprise, they nail without fail. Constructed layer upon layer from a sparse, eerily cloistered intro, the vocal echoing outward as if enclosed in a dripping vault, the song quickly grows into its power, primal and indignant and scathing and empathetic and more than a touch confessional all at once, the subject of the title being read a very personal, long-coming riot act while all the while being reached out to with a tenderness that comes from a very vulnerable – not to mention conflicted – place. A study in reckoning and the ache of acceptance that comes with it, “Angel” would, deservedly, be the cut on Silhouettes we’d likely all be talking about were it not for that utterly transfixing, translucent take on “…Film Star.”
Even as Zora’s preferred guitar tone is, in its expressive way, perfectly tailored to an adaptation of that incomparable 1981-released single and in fact layers it here with a fresh new dimension or two, that fact alone doesn’t quite prepare one for the sheer presence Yama Uba bring to the song. The inescapable ardor that possesses the original, thereby wrapping it in timelessness, isn’t simply well-replicated by Akiko’s respectful yet unique take at the mic but to some extent repossesses it, giving it a life outside its legacy. The center of attention for all the obvious reasons, it could be argued that its most crucial asset might well be how it underscores Silhouettes‘ sound quality. Produced by Sampson, exceptionally mixed (Charlie Vera) and mastered (Daniel Husayn), the album, as they say, slays, a statement that holds from whatever angle one considers it. In short, what a stunning thrill of a debut. As they – and we – bask in the emotive and moving glow of this initial full-length, one can hardly imagine where Yama Uba evolve from here, but they will, and we will all be there.[Silhouettes available in all standard formats, as well a cool damn T-shirt, available here]