The first on the album and first to be released, Soul Mates, sets the tone with a more mellow and stripped-back sound than we’re accustomed to hearing from Grant. It’s a calm, whimsical track, “close your eyes and feel at peace, for a moment… free”, with a simple but effective soothing melody that you can't help but get caught up in. There’s a sense of authenticity and honesty throughout the album, and the distancing from Feeder allows some room for experimentation, as this opening track demonstrates with its bare vocals and acoustics.
Hitori opens in a similarly light fashion, but soon reveals a harder edge and darker tone, with a more downbeat tempo and lyrics which include “sorrow will find me wherever I go”; it’s a compelling track which builds up nicely and has a unique sound which peaks towards the end. Like the rest of the album, there’s clear attention to detail in terms of the variety of instruments, both in the foreground as well as the more subtle sounds. In particular, there’s a lot of synth action going on in the album; despite the 70s acoustic vibe, there’s also a distinct modernity to it. This is apparent in the opening of Tall Trees, which begins ominously and eventually develops into an almost anthemic song. It’s a sprawling track full of natural imagery, with a sense of positivity in the lyrics despite the melancholic instrumentals.
Credit should also be given to the music videos, of which there’s one for every song. I can’t think of many albums which have done the same thing, particularly for a relatively small release like this, but it’s even more impressive that they’re all very well produced. I know this is a music post so I won’t go all film-studies on you, but whoever was behind them did a great job. Many consist of natural scenery with a fittingly old school vibe, and the locations and editing are all top-notch. The video for Robots accompanies the song perfectly, showing a montage of every aspect of urban life, from the diversity of everyday people on the street (including smiling policemen and peaceful protestors) to violent street riots and rockets launching into space. There’s a nice juxtaposition of both human progress and our self-destructive nature (which is also reflected upon later in the album with Silent In Space), and it ends on a beautiful sweeping aerial shot of the cityscape.
I found Good Fortune Lies Ahead to be one of the very few lulls in the album. It’s still pretty good and Grant’s vocals are as appealing as ever, but it’s rather similar to Soul Mates and a bit monotonous. Still, as the shortest song it’s more like a calm interlude before going back to the more lively songs, the first of which is Joan of Arc. This is one of the more powerful tracks, which develops into something unique and engaging, and the higher emphasis on the backing drums and guitar compliments the vocals in a way which really works. Hope keeps up the pace, but it’s more energetic with a feel-good factor. Despite some of the downbeat lyrics, the song is, well, hopeful, and about being able to return to the comfort of home when things are looking down. Isolation isn’t quite as interesting musically, but it’s a perfect demonstration of Grant’s songwriting ability, and it's implied to be about an inability to communicate and the isolation we feel in our own heads as a result – which is ironic, going by how well he seems to vocalise his own thoughts.
Broken Resolutions, despite the title, is another highlight. It alternates between a peaceful, guitar strumming folk-like rhythm with some introspective musings “I think about the future, thinking about my health”, to a triumphant and worry-free “I threw my hands into the air, I never felt so alive”; it’s something which wouldn’t sound out of place around a campfire at night. The single Time Stood Still is, in the words of Nirvana, a bit of a radio friendly unit shifter, but that’s not to diminish the song in any way. Although I find the opening verses a little clunky, the rest of the song is very upbeat and catchy, with a feel-good quality to it as well as being just as proudly anthemic as Hope - it’s bound to get an audience in a good mood.
I wasn’t too keen on Father To Son the first time I listened to it; the first half feels a bit flat and goes too far into sentimentality for me, despite the heartfelt lyrics, but then again fatherhood isn’t really something I can relate to for the time being! However, it really picks up at the half way point and turns into something great, and the display of affection in the songwriting is compelling. There’s a cool distorted voice effect towards the end, which would have been nice to hear more of somewhere in the album. Counting Steps is another song which grew on me over time; it’s a warm, relaxing track with a very pleasant chorus and rich imagery.
Seamlessly going from cosmic back to personal, Safe in Place ends the album on a high note (literally) in a similar way to how it began, with a simple guitar melody and stripped-back vocals. Although it’s essentially a love song, it seems like quite a fitting way to round off Grant’s first solo album, with him singing “finally I’m making a start, and no one’s going to take it away”. It’s a laid-back track which builds to a small satisfying climax, and there’s a tranquil and atmospheric low synth effect in the background throughout. The video for it is another one worth noting, consisting of a beautifully shot and edited time lapse of our galaxy.
Overall, Yorktown Heights a well-paced and insightful album, perfect for these summer evenings. It’s atmospheric and sometimes dark, but there’s always a sense of optimism not far off, whether it’s reflected in the lyrics or uplifting instrumentals. It’s full of the extremely catchy and memorable choruses which Grant does best, but just as good are the more subdued moments and unexpected changes in tempo. His musical range and ability is obvious from the album, and it’s even more apparent when compared to early heavy Feeder songs like Descend or Stereo World, or the more recent Renegades album. Granted (sorry), I’m already a fan of both Feeder and Grant, but this is a departure from the kind of sound you’d usually associate with him, and overall it’s resulted in a great album. It’s varied, both as a whole and in each individual song, and although it’s nothing ground-breaking, that’s not the point; it’s a much more personal and introspective endeavour which seems to be for Grant as much as it is for fans. I’m looking forward to hearing more, whether it’s in the form of another solo album or a return to Feeder, but for now this is an album I highly recommend!
-Safe in Place
-Joan of Arc
-Silent In Space