Young & Sick

Young & Sick

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Nick Van Hofwegen may be best known as a visual artist, creating album covers for Robin Thicke and giant murals, but his first album under the name Young & Sick may change that. His self-titled debut on Harvest Records is a very 2014-sounding album, with downtempo R&B crooning, smeary washes of synths, and simmering beats, delivered with so much style and graceful soul that it leaps ahead of the pack to become something of a minor classic of the form. Van Hofwegen isn't from the mopey James Blake school of abstract R&B, or the "sex you up all night long as I angst about it" school of the Weeknd; he's more a charter member of the sunny, happy, and smooth electronic soul club that also counts the great Benny Sings as a member -- with D'Angelo, Boards of Canada, and Steely Dan as inspirations. Every song on Young & Sick flows like molten gold, the warmth of Van Hofwegen's multiple vocals harmonies filling the listener's ears with a calm, peaceful feeling. His falsetto is unforced and intimate, never pushing past laid-back even when the tempo jumps past relaxed into semi-rousing (as on the bubbling dance track "Ghost of a Chance"). Most of the songs do hover in that slow- to midtempo, late-night groove range, though he makes sure to include enough differences between sounds, moods, and feel to keep the album from being too monochromatic. He uses a wide range of synth sounds, from fat and chunky on the percolating "Glass" to cheerfully bleepy on "Nowhere," and varies the drum programming textures too. Even if all the songs did blend together into one long, languorous jam, Young & Sick would still be worth checking out because it would be a very, very nice jam. While the record does flow extremely well, each song can be plucked out, examined for flaws, and determined to be without any. Take out any one, like the hypnotic "Feel Pain," the aching "Heartache Fetish," or "Mangrove," which kicks things off with his most impressive bit of vocal harmony and arrangement, and you've got the highlight of a mixtape. Or at the very least, a shining example of how to craft left-field electro-soul that caresses your ears while cutting deep at the same time.

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