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"It's Christmas (I Miss Ya)" by YNES

Review

Only the other week I was reporting on the enthusiasm of John Rivers of Woodbine Studios for the work of YNES, and here I am, fortunate enough to share extra evidence of why he feels that way about her, with the release of her festive single "It's Christmas (I Miss Ya)".

It's hard for me in the confines of a review of a length that anyone would want to review to list all the things which I love about this song.

I know I start from a position where I like & admire her whole approach to what she does, so am probably pretty biased in her favour, but nevertheless, I think it would be hard not to warm to this song.

As I suspect I've hinted, I find Christmas singles difficult to review given the propensity of otherwise creative writers to insert multiple references to sleighbells, reindeer etc etc which by no means represent their or anyone listening's actual Yuletide experiences. There are far too many examples of what appear to be stock clichés hurled against a wall & then reassembled into a random order.

"It's Christmas (I Miss Ya)" is not one of those.

Based much closer to genuine life & at times almost uncomfortably personal (YNES does tend towards beating herself up a bit in some songs, including this one), thank goodness it actually RINGS TRUE (and I emphasise there are no bell effects in the arrangement).  In her own words "…dropped a Christmas song, so I can't slag off Paul McCartney anymore (I will)": yet this song is way more honest than Macca's effort, replete as it is with musical & lyrical clichés (the choir of children have practised all year long? I think not).

It swings along merrily in its own way (and I have to confess the rhythm sounds a bit like someone who's had a few drinks swaying & lurching along a slippery street: the song starts with her "sat outside the cathedral, cause where else would I be on Christmas Eve, drinking tinned cocktails  while families stare at me") and sounds deceptively simple.

However as with all her best songs, although there are sections where her tongue is in her cheek, and others where she is poking it out at the judgemental world, there is a true heart at the centre of the piece & that's ultimately what elevates her work & gains the respect of those who understand.

In between the moment of low self esteem, needing to "get a grip" and hoping for "balls of steel" for presents, fearing the potential embarrassment of turning up unannounced at the home of the object of her affections and balancing this with the need to get home "with my dignity intact", you can't actually get away from the fact that this is an achingly honest narrative of not yet requited love and the agonies of how to connect, set against the backdrop of the often suffocating social norms and expectations of Christmas. If this sort of thing is tricky through most of the year, the festive season just piles on the agonies.

Yet YNES retains a hope & optimism throughout which is key to the heart I mentioned. Whereas songs like "Fairytale of New York" are popular (rightly so) for portraying the dark side of the season, that is essentially a fictional tale. "It's Christmas (I Miss Ya)" seems true.

This has leapt with a single bound into my limited list of "Christmas songs I actually think are good and would play". If you wanted to list the best Christmas songs ever based upon originality & veracity plus emotional truth, then this is a contender. Whether or not mainstream media have the courage to go against the bland and insipid expectations of the genre, I doubt it: let's see who has the suss to play it. In the meantime, if you have a cosy Christmas song comfort zone, this may not be for you. If however you like your own expectations challenged & hearing something true & original, I urge it upon you. I'll be playing it & sharing it for sure.

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"God's Little Punching Bag" by YNES

Review

Springing out of the blue somewhat is the new single from YNES called "God's Little Punching Bag" which burst onto our consciousness this morning. Surprises often add an edge to the quality of the track concerned, though with this song, there is scarcely any room for additional edge. YNES is one of those artists we are blessed with locally at the moment whose work moves demonstrably from strength to even greater strength and this alone proves the point in her case. It's magnificent and though reviewers can be a bit prone to calling a song an artist's "best to date" ( I try and avoid that expression), what else can one say when it strikes you in this way?

Her "Better Job" clearly stabbed the zeitgeist with a musical stiletto and more recently "Used To Be" pulled zero punches. However "God's Little Punching Bag" expresses YNES' passion through a slightly different route which in some ways conveys still greater power (and at times possibly menace?). Her vocal this time is set somewhere between a growl and a breezy conversational tone rather than a rant and again given the nature of the lyrics serves to emphasise them. At times her words drip with sarcasm and though the title suggests a sense of possible self pity, what you get is absolutely not the case: it's a healthy dose of irony and defiance. I have to say that irony is one of my favourite aspects of lyric writing, not least because it is often the first casualty of people writing with commercial targets in mind.  One of my favourite music quotes is that of Elvis Costello: "irony is lost on pinheads" and I rejoice when I hear YNES and others deploying it.

Interestingly, she has emulated another Elvis approach in her musical setting: that of setting words to a music which seems to be the opposite of what you'd expect. Hence we get a marvellous piece of power pop: perfect for the summer, perfect for radio play and likewise for dancing. Without being too cynical, I suspect that there will be many people, especially existing YNES fans, who will "get" the full idea of "God's Little Punching Bag" but others who'll just love it without fully grasping her intent. These things happen & who minds if it introduces new people to her music? They'll get her in time.

I hope I don't oversell the single to you, but it really is a cracker: in a summer when we have had some really high quality releases already, it still stands out. It brought a smile to my face when first I heard it & frankly it's pretty addictive. In a benevolent way. Go on: try it yourself. I doubt you'll regret it.

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"Used To Be" by YNES

Review

When reviewing the last YNES single (the eviscerating "Better Job", which also featured Ace Ambrose), among several adjectives I used, one was "exciting" and that pretty much can come into play again to describe the feelings on hearing that this dynamic artist whose enthusiasm & panache seem to have few if any bounds, has come up with another single, "Used To Be" which is released this Friday (14th May): a handful of days after her birthday so it might (in a slightly skewed way naturally) be perceived as a gift.

Crafted at Woodbine Studios with the help of John Rivers (the go-to producer for all the local punk bands of the first 1976-8 wave), what you get is what the combination of an artist with few inhibitions about articulating her feelings working with a producer of international reputation & more than four decades' worth of experience in capturing power, energy & truth beautifully but without compromising it, would lead you to expect.

"Used To Be" builds itself up in a steady (if not relentless) fashion. If last time out the predominant feelings seemed to be anger & a withering sarcasm, on this single, the fury is dialled back as the subject matter doesn't call for it: what we get instead is another facet of this most interesting artist: one which embraces nostalgia, reflection on how her life has changed  & empathy. By about the three minute mark you suddenly realise just how far the volume & intensity has risen while you've been listening, yet then in a powerful switch of dynamics, the passion drops down into pathos & wistfulness for the coda: just right. (The striking cover art takes the wistfulness to extremes: it makes her look like a piteous Dickensian orphan)

Apart from the "punk" epithet, YNES also self describes as having Britpop roots & when I heard "Used To Be", my immediate thought was my appreciation of the debut album of Lily Allen: it shares that wit, a sense of enjoying wordplay coupled with an apparent desire to write lyrics in a way which people (especially of YNES' own generation) articulate themselves rather than in the sterile code into which (over)conventional lyric writing too often slips. There is (thankfully) much more of this approach around these days than there was years ago (especially round our way) with so many true voices, not necessarily sharing YNES' or indeed anyone else's particular style.

I can hardly wait to hear whatever she comes up with next (I can't begin to second guess her) and in other excellent news, YNES has dates where we can catch her & her band live in the coming weeks: on Thursday June 3rd at the George Tavern in London, at the Bigfoot Festival at Ragley Hall on Saturday June 19th and at Birmingham's Sunflower Lounge on Saturday June 26th.

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"Better Job" by YNES featuring Ace Ambrose

Review

Now this is very exciting…..a most powerful & compelling collaboration between YNES and "Hot Music Live Presents" artist Ace Ambrose called "Better Job" has just been released.

On this YNES single, Ace (who we last heard from on her own single "Doomsayer" in November 2020) plays lead guitar: her first time I think as a featured instrumentalist & which shows yet another of her many talents. (Credit also to Felan Quirke on drums).

The two fit together perfectly as they share an uncompromising approach to their art. If Ace's new Gal Fawkes identity evolves her already radical character into new areas of activism, then Coventry based YNES has clearly already inhabited similar territory.

Together they assault the appalling governmental treatment of the arts over past months (I shan't catalogue their failings & malice: you know them & anyway YNES makes such a good job of taking them on, my words are superfluous on the subject). If the powers that be hold creatives in contempt & are conspiring to neuter them & silence their voices, here is an artist who will not lie down meekly & let it happen. This is not someone who will permit herself to be persuaded to retrain for something "better" and more docile.

The energy in "Better Job" is tremendous & the frankly punk mentality drives its point home with a ferocity rarely heard these days & which the subject requires. If YNES' snarling passionate words make the case beyond doubt, leaving no room for misunderstanding, then the vicious stabs of Ace's guitar punctuate the text equally appropriately.

There is such a refreshing breeze of honest statement which we certainly need: both in terms of the actual focus of "Better Job" but also more broadly in keeping the scene vibrant, dynamic & true: no wonder YNES is such a talked about artist currently. I don't remember ever exhorting readers to PLAY IT LOUD in a review, but I do here.

May the Government take note & act more righteously. The writing may be on the wall….

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