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Yeah No: Swell Henry

Swell Henry, Yeah No’s fourth album, cocoons the listener with a plush, warm, flowing sound that remains seductive even with occasional oddball electronic noises or nonstandard timbres disrupting the surface. Yeah No is led by Chris Speed, who plays tenor sax, clarinet and (yes) Casio and wrote most of the songs on Swell Henry; he also, no doubt, fostered the aforementioned plushness among both the core band-trumpeter Cuong Vu, bassist Skuli Sverrisson and drummer Jim Black-and guests Rob Burger on accordion and Jamie Saft on Mellotron and Wurlitzer.

Most of Speed’s songs feature long-breathed melodies that get plenty of reps, like the airy, sighing strings of chords in “Cloud Stopper,” or the gently swaying accordion ballad and its cooler sax-and-trumpet countersubject in “She Has Four Thorns.” Ambiguous harmonies and (sometimes) odd meters help the melodies keep their luster; so do the occasional solos, mostly taken by Speed or Vu, in which even the squeakiest playing fits into the context of the song and the fat grooves established by Sverrisson and Black are never disrupted.

This being a Downtown record, Swell Henry does throw us a few curves. “He Has a Pair of Dice” takes off from a ragged fanfare undermined by irregular drum rhythms, which inspires heated solos from Speed and Sverrisson; “Flanked” puts forth a quick-stepping groove that is just as quickly routed, after which it spends a full minute grinding into nothing with hysterics from Speed and Vu. These exceptions to the cushy rule, however, simply help make Swell Henry intriguing as well as inviting.

Originally Published