Tuesday, October 11, 2016

It's Not Really A Panning: Why The Solid Gold EP Is A Tough Sell!

The Good: Vocals, Most of the lyrics, Good sound
The Bad: Occasionally overproduced, VERY SHORT!
The Basics: Nikki Yanofsky's new Solid Gold EP hints at an amazing forthcoming full-album . . . while asking her fanbase to double-buy tracks from what is going to be a concept album, which infuriates those of us who have come to love her works.

This has been a good year for me with music. Earlier in the year, I went to a Heather Nova concert (reviewed here!) and my favorite musical artist of all time performed a request that I had posted to her Facebook page. And now, with the release of Nikki Yanofsky's Solid Gold EP, I finally get to hear an acoustic version of Yanofsky's single "Young Love." While I know that Nova performed the one song specifically because of my request (she told the story of getting the request on the Facebook page and asked if the person who made the request was there before she performed it!), I have no idea if Yanofsky put the acoustic version of "Young Love" on the Solid Gold EP because of my request or not. However, when Yanofsky publicly released "Young Love" online a few months ago, I tweeted to her that it was a wonderful song, but that it made me wish I could hear an acoustic version of it. So, either she planned initially to release the less-produced version all along or she - like Heather Nova - is responsive to her social media requests by giving her listeners what they want on new albums! But, given that Yanofsky mentions reading all her tweets, I have hope within me that my comment reached her and she threw the acoustic version of "Young Love" on the Solid Gold EP because of my request.

The Solid Gold EP appears to be following the same model that Meagan Trainor followed with Title (reviewed here!) where the artists releases an EP to promote a forthcoming full-length album. I am not a fan.

To be clear, I have very suddenly become a fan of the works of Nikki Yanofsky and, amidst listening to Solid Gold EP on heavy-replay, I listened to a live stream event I missed last month where Yanofsky discussed the Solid Gold EP (which made me sad - I had questions I would have asked Yanofsky!), where Yanofsky promoted the Solid Gold EP and referenced the full album coming in the Spring (of 2017). I am not a fan of using a medium poorly or having to double-buy things, like music or movies that have continual revisions. So, the idea of the Solid Gold EP is inherently offensive to me; it is a promotional tool for a concept record. I love concept albums and I am super-psyched about the idea of a Nikki Yanofsky concept album, especially when Yanofsky has said that the concept album is an exploration of her relationship experiences. Solid Gold EP hints that Yanofsky has something to say and the talent to say it in an interesting way. But, if you're going to release a concept album, release a concept album; take the time to get it right, then release the full thing. Making a sampler like the Solid Gold EP feels like a promotional device; a way to keep one's name out in the public eye while one finishes a work. Having seen a ton of ads for Norah Jones's new album, I have a sneaking suspicion that someone managing Yanofsky's career wanted to put out something right around the same time so people seeing Jones's new work could be up-sold on something from Yanofsky. Regardless of the background theory, the Solid Gold EP is a glimpse into a larger work and it hints at something amazing without delivering it.

With only six tracks clocking out at 19:30, the Solid Gold EP might be a poor use of the c.d. medium, but what is contained on the EP is pretty amazing. Nikki Yanofsky wrote or co-wrote/composed all five of the songs ("Young Love" is on the EP twice in fully-produced and acoustic versions!). The primary vocals are all from Nikki Yanofsky and Yanofsky worked closely with Wyclef Jean, who produced the Solid Gold EP; judging from everything she says about it in interviews, this (and, especially, the forthcoming full-length album) is very much the work Yanofsky wanted to release.

The six tracks on the Solid Gold EP are a musically well-developed grouping of songs and the transition from track to track actually works wonderfully. Opening with the upbeat, classic-pop sound of "Young Love" (which sounds like a 1980's ballad in the best possible way!), the Solid Gold EP moves to a wonderfully funky sounding "Best Of Me." "Me, Myself & I" is haunting and guided by Yanofsky's voice, despite the percussion in it; it might be the perfect blend of lonely lyrics, barren accompaniment and an emotive voice to evoke the desired mood with impressive efficiency. The up-tempo "Miss You When I'm Drunk" prevents listeners from falling completely into despair. The album transitions nicely into the acoustic version of "Young Love" (which, as I hoped, resonates more emotively without the orchestral accompaniment and the "one woman and a piano" sound of it pops in a different and wonderful way) before ending with "To No1." Like the song that precedes it, "To No1." is contemplative sounding and piano-driven.

As anyone who has heard anything by Nikki Yanofsky knows, Yanofsky has an amazing voice and her range and ability to hold notes continues on the Solid Gold EP. On the Solid Gold EP, Yanofsky is expressive, vocally impressive and filled with so much raw talent that it leaves the listener wishing for a dual-album - a fully-produced album and an acoustic version of the same album to hear the musically-rich experience and contrast it with one where Yanofsky's amazing voice dominates. I'm a cheapskate, but I'd shell out for that right away! (And, unlike a "sampler" like an EP leading into a full album, a produced and an acoustic version of the same album can easily become two very distinct and different musical works!)

Lyrically, Nikki Yanofsky begins to deliver on her potential on Solid Gold EP. On some of Yanofsky's other works, there have been songs Yanofsky has written or co-written and they have been bursting with potential - especially when compared to some of the standards she performs with painfully-predictable rhyme schemes. On the Solid Gold EP, Yanofsky keeps the writing fresh, interesting and emotional. Songs like "Miss You When I'm Drunk" captivate the listener with an almost universal sense of missing someone and getting over them in the sober light of day.

It made me very glad to hear that "Me, Myself & I" was Yanofsky's favorite track on Solid Gold EP (at least according to her live stream interview she did on Facebook when the EP was released!); it is arguably the most poetic, distinctive, and lyrically complicated song on the album. When Yanofsky sings "I hate being alone with my thoughts / Baby, please don't be gone for too long / Outside our love you've got plenty of friends / I've only got you and so I pretend / That I'm all right / Yeah, it's all right / It's just me, myself and I . . ." ("Me, Myself & I") it is hard for anyone who has been immersed in a complicated relationship not to empathize with the musical protagonist. The Solid Gold EP illustrates well that Yanofsky does, indeed, have something original to say about relationships and the ability to make those thoughts beautifully musical.

Rather than continuing to evaluate the lyrics - I'll devote the time to that with the full album - I wanted to reiterate; what is on the Solid Gold EP is wonderful . . . there is just not enough of it. And knowing that we will get all these songs and quite a bit more on a new album makes it an impossible sell for a thrifty person like me. And, frankly, having heard William Shatner tell the full story of how his musical career got entirely derailed by a musical concept album that was presented poorly to the masses, it seems ridiculous to me that anyone would ever release an EP based upon a concept album. I can understand the marketing behind releasing an EP, but as a consumer, it is hard not to feel cheated by the EP, then full-album strategy and it is disappointing to see an musician like Nikki Yanofsky using this approach as she transitions from a performer to a full-fledged artist. In other words, as Yanofsky starts to hit her artistic stride, taking such a commercial approach to distribution feels very . . . un-artistic.

In short, Nikki Yanofsky is not going to go bankrupt and stop making music if you don't buy the Solid Gold EP (we hope!). She is talented, the music on the Solid Gold EP is wonderful, but the smart money is on the idea that when the full album is finished and released in 2017 Yanofsky will be able to pull off the concept and make something that is a complete, rich concept album that is well-developed and worth waiting for. The Solid Gold EP just makes listeners want the full album; unless one is a collector who absolutely has to have everything from an artist, save your money and get the full album when it is released next year.

For other works by Nikki Yanofsky, please visit my reviews of:
Ella . . . Of Thee I Swing
Little Secret


For other music reviews, please check out my Music Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2016 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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