Step outside and breathe in the spring air. There’s a slight breeze between your hair and the crooks of your ears; it sounds like keyboards beginning to bounce, pinging back and forth with the beat like two kids making up a dance as they play. Some wordless coos help you shake that sleepy feeling as you take a few steps down the block. You’re awake now, and the sun is shining bright.
With any luck, you’re listening to “Mangrove”, the opening track from Young & Sick’s debut album. Self-described as an “art project” by the Dutch singer/producer Nick Van Hofwegen (who does everything, including his album art), Young & Sick creates a breezy, slick hybrid of R&B and soulful pop that won’t be ignored. It fits in perfectly with the current R&B zeitgeist, the bright chimes and lackadaisical air recalling Frank Ocean songs like “Sweet Life”. It won’t sound out of place in an Urban Outfitters store, and there’s nothing wrong with that.
You can find tens of thousands of kids making music like this on their laptops: synthesizer blips and click tracks and major key harmonies. Hofwegan sets himself apart by simply doing it better. The most impressive thing about this project is how tight the arrangement is: every click is in the right place, every vocal is matched by three or four falsetto’ed harmonies, and the melody is given just enough room to breathe without losing any of its focus. In a word, it’s got soul. It’s how you know Young & Sick’s not a mimic or an imitator…this guy’s the real deal.
Listen closer and you’ll hear that the lyrics to “Mangrove” are surprisingly paranoid. Hofwegan sings about how great things are going and wondering when his nightmares will come true: “I am so damn happy, something must be very wrong. When life is smiling at me, why do I frown?” Yet the song bounces along, stop and go and stop and go, like it doesn’t care how stressed out its creator is. It’s a great juxtaposition of text and mood, taking the way a song makes you feel and putting it to the test.
And after a single listen, it begs the question: when the world sounds this great, why worry in the first place?
Play this song: When you cross the street in the morning, taking your first step of the day into sunlight.