Boasting one of the freshest sounds in modern music, Dallas’ Conner Youngblood earns his place as a rising star. Blending folk, R&B and electronica seamlessly, his unique talent was immediately apparent on his 2013 EP Make Me Faster. Riding the success of that record’s hit track, “The Warpath,” along with a number of successful singles, Youngblood’s debut album has finally arrived. A stunning ode to nature featuring dazzling arrangements and elegant vocals, Cheyenne is an electro-folk triumph.
On the album-opening title track, Youngblood introduces listeners to his silky voice. Backed by a simple acoustic guitar and blaring horns, he lays the foundation for the album’s sonics with a haunting introduction. Toward the end of the song, Youngblood demonstrates his knack for unique vocal arrangements, layering his vocals to create ethereal harmonies. Youngblood is exceptional in his ability to use his voice as an instrument, allowing his hums and cries to seep into the fabric of his organic and primal soundscapes.
This is exemplified further on “The Birds of Finland,” a sprawling epic made for mornings by the sea and nights under the stars. The song’s mesmerizing introduction features a host of strangely beautiful sounds, from angelic harp refrains to a variety of live percussion, all a testament to Youngblood’s talent as a sound engineer. Recalling Sigur Rós, immersive arrangements work as tributes to natural beauty. Even more impressive is Youngblood’s willingness to remain vulnerable in front of these wondrous backdrops.
Tracks like “My Brother’s Brother” reveal Youngblood’s intention to use his sonic environment not only for grandiose depictions of the natural world, but also as vehicles for self-reflection. On the track, sparse instrumentation with little more than an acoustic guitar accompanies vocals tinged with regret, as Youngblood croons, “Though I left your heart on fire, I left it just the same.” This expression overflowing from a past relationship reveals his lack of certainty in the decisions he makes. Throughout the album is a subtle yearning, as Conner Youngblood wonders where he fits into the natural order he deftly depicts, hoping to find real purpose.
However, these musings are never melodramatic or overbearing. Instead, this vulnerability empowers as a part of Youngblood’s gorgeous vision of an awe-inspiring, imperfect earth. This vision never ceases to impress and inspire, as he continues to shift musical styles towards the album’s close. “Sulphur Springs” sees Youngblood channeling Age of Adz-era Sufjan Stevens, as heavily Auto-Tuned vocals layer over a hard-hitting electronic beat. Amazingly, the electronic production of this song and others on Cheyenne never seems artificial. Instead, Conner Youngblood proves an uncanny ability to blur the lines between electronic and acoustic, making produced beats feel real and grounded.
Closing track “Yellowknife” adds yet another dimension to Youngblood’s sound. Things begin unassumingly, as his voice shifts and modulates over a familiar folk riff. However, jangly guitars and spacey synths soon arrive, creating an entirely different aura that would feel at home on a Slowdive or Cocteau Twins record. Perhaps this new sound should come as no surprise, given Youngblood’s apparent comfort with complex, atmospheric ambiance. The song builds to a satisfying conclusion as his voice gradually blends into the beat, disappearing into the album’s vivid world.
While at times thematically vague and lyrically simple, Cheyenne is a collection of sounds and experiences designed to immerse and inspire. Youngblood has created a series of vignettes, each beautiful and unique, to give the listener a diverse and magical place to return to time and time again.
Follow writer Matthew Eaton at Twitter.com/MattnSoCal.