Yeule’s cybernetic world invokes the listener to take their mind away from where they are currently and take a glimpse into the distant future. Their music conjures up mental imagery of a dystopian city in which fluorescent neon street signs populate every crevice; where towering skyscrapers sit side by side and span every visible horizon, each and every one interconnected through an elaborate system of transportation tunnels; where every car is equipped with a turbo engine and can levitate at the user’s will; where the city’s bustling nightlife is illuminated by both jovial parties and mischievous crime that rages on until the night eventually bleeds daybreak; where robots have assimilated with humans and roam the streets fairly harmoniously; where humans are content and accepting of the fact that every manmade job is being made obsolete slowly yet surely; where the city’s poverty-stricken underbelly remains oblivious to those living outside it as the dazzling, prismatic lights that inhabit every shopfront and billboard blind the everyday man into believing it to be Heaven on Earth. Still, you, as a citizen of the city that was raised by its cruel, unforgiving environment, must walk its dingy roads and crepuscular, vacant alleyways in hopes for it to one day achieve the idealistic excellence your ancestors were promised when they arrived here, though you know deep down that it will forever dwell in mediocrity, a shell of what scholars centuries ago said the future would hold.
Whether it is the equal parts beautifully desolate and ethereally empty chillwave of Seratonin II or the self-loathing exploration of glitch pop via the conceptual Glitch Princess, Nat Ćmiel, otherwise known as Yeule, has time and time again managed to produce what sounds like the soundtrack for a post-pretty-much-everything-sensible society, one where the lines between the real world and the cyberspace seem to get blurrier every day. It captures that growing feeling of isolation in the modern world through airy electronic soundscapes, light-as-a-feather singing, and fuzzy guitars. It’s music catered to those who spend an irrational amount of time on the Internet, spending all day scrolling through web forms and doubting their every action. Yet it's not just the music that seems to dedicate itself to this aesthetic; their eccentric outfits and presentation of themself which often tows the fine line between human and machine (that also always serve mind you), their enigmatic way of communicating with fans, their surreal and fairytale-esque visuals- everything about Yeule feels deeply devoted to making the music feel like more than just music. It feels like a moment; a time capsule from a generation hyper-fixated on the impending doom that the future holds while also having their vision tainted by the foggy tint of nostalgia glasses that makes them yearn for a past that came before they even existed, something that Softscars beautifully captures through its reinvention ‘90s emo-inspired alt-rock, grunge, hazy dream pop, and shoegaze.
Just as the title suggests, Softscars is about wounds; emotional ones to be precise. Yet it’s not simply about the damage they cause or the pain that is felt by them, it’s also about the healing process, too. Yeule is aware that, similar to how scars never go away, trauma stays with its victim evermore. If Glitch Princess was a vulnerable, disorderly look at a person losing themself to suicidal ideations and drugs as a result of unshakable self-hating tendencies and constant failures in long-standing relationships, then Softscars is an attempt to overcome that- a roaring cry that, in spite of the futility, you can conquer the pain. Softscar’s title track prominently features Yeule musing over someone they considered a friend, or perhaps even a lover, who ended up stabbing them in the back. Regardless, Yeule cannot seem to shake their love for them no matter how desperately they try. Meanwhile, Dazies tells the story of someone who is suffering from such horrid depression that they cannot build up the will to rise from their bed in the morning. Lead single Sulky Baby is a vestige from a Yeule of years ago- an account from a journal entry Yeule wrote. It serves as “half a dream recall and half a critique on self,” Yeule themself put it.
By the time we get to record closer Aphex Twin Flame, whose subject matter seems to ruminate on a relationship between two twin flames who seem to have bonded over music- hence the title’s Aphex Twin reference- and are sure that, even though they are departing for now, they both are destined to someday reunite, Yeule has still not found the answer as to how one can completely rid yourself of past trauma. They have, however, found love which, even if fleeting, gives them something to look forward to. Yet the record ends inconclusively; even if twin flames are fated to be together when the dust settles, there is no guarantee that this will happen for certain. By ending the record so ambiguously, it leaves two possible routes for your mind to explore. Those who are optimistic will see this presumed fatedness as something certain, meanwhile, those on the more pessimistic side of the spectrum will look at this and believe it to be a bunch of nonsense. In their eyes, Yeule will simply relapse on their habits spawned from feelings of self-contempt. Yet even with all this being said, even if this feeling of happiness is only momentary, Yeule can feel something other than pain and heartbreak at this moment, forgetting for a brief moment about the suffering they’ve been enduring their entire life. It’s ultimately moments like these that make life worth living; that should inspire you to trudge through the pain.
Softscars feels like the perfect balance between the soft sentimentality of Seratonin II with Glitch Princess’ rougher, more dissonant exterior. Opener x w x’s brief two-and-a-half minutes go by in an instant and hit you with the intensity of a charge from a battering ram to the face. Yeule’s palpable exasperated punk attitude on the track as they paint a visual of a person who has been hurt so much that their physical body parts have almost entirely been replaced by bionic ones through a cryptic string of lyrical imagery, as well as instrumentation that marries the styles of noise rock, shoegaze, and grunge, may have the listener expecting a record filled with unrelenting ferocity, though that couldn’t be further from the truth. As the song culminates in Yeule’s blood-curdling screams over climactic, howling guitars and thunderous drumming, it falls into feedback and seamlessly transitions into the track Sulky Baby. An almost complete switch in tone, Sulky Baby is a tender, bittersweet ode to all those who cannot do anything but sulk by themselves all day. Yeule’s delicate crooning floats over a bed of silky guitar chords intermingled with grating loops of feedback; of which are spliced between liberating shots of even more clamorous feedback with Yeule’s ghostly singing of the song’s title and some elegant vocals that are chopped and laced underneath it all, breathing tranquility into dissonance. The entire track feels like the audio equivalent of playing out your past mistakes in your head and seeking to think of ways you could have gone about fixing them- you can’t change the past, but you still can’t help but harp on what you could have done right in those scenarios.
Gone is the whisper-singing that furnished Seratonin II, instead, Yeule continues with utilizing vocal effects that make them sound more robotic than human- a style they pioneered on Glitch Princess. However, that’s not to say the genuine moments of human intimacy are gone on Softscars. Ghosts’ gentle, dove-like, and stripped-back acoustics fuse with Yeule’s computerized vocals for a heartbreaking ballad about a ghost whose current status as a spiritual entity makes it impossible for their lover to notice them. Inferno, surprisingly enough, sheds the cyborg-coded vocals for Yeule’s regular voice in an icy ambient house cut deeply reminiscent of what they did on Seratonin II- perhaps a bit too much, though that’s beside the point. Fish in the Pool, a drop-dead gorgeous piece of impressionism with nothing more than an echoing piano that Yeule softly hums over, portrays more emotion in its cozy elegance than some artists do across their entire discography- all without a single comprehensible word uttered.
While I’ve been focusing on the singles for the bulk of this review, Softscar’s deep cuts are no less masterful. Yeule’s mashing together of singing and talking into one glitchy, fractured style of vocal delivery goes over much smoother on Bloodbunny than on the aforementioned Inferno, a song whose nocturnal, minimal instrumental backing sounds straight out of a dream I can barely recall. Software Update is an absolutely delightful piece of dream pop of which’s light, breezy strums of a guitar have heavy feedback looming underneath them- all until the song collapses upon itself in a cathartic explosion of vibrant guitars and a colossal wall of feedback. It’s the musical embodiment of being caught by surprise by the first fireworks at a Fourth of July celebration, but then swiftly being in awe at their kaleidoscopic charm; and I have to give a nod to the anthemic Cyber Meat, a post-punk revival detour with an emo-pop flair that can be best described as Yeule’s own little self-made theme song. Lyrics that perfectly illustrate the ethos of Yeule’s musical persona punctuate the track, as well as one of Softscar’s more ferocious vocal performances.
And of course, there’s Dazies, a song that not only has my heart as Softscar’s crowning achievement but also perhaps the single greatest musical achievement of 2023. While a piercing symphony of a cacophonious mix of feedback and guitar that could cause buildings to collapse breaks up moments of acoustic delicacy, Yeule laments on a story of a person so far deep into a seemingly inescapable labyrinth of their intrusive feelings of self-destruction and emotional neglect that they fail to have the courage to do anything but lay in their bed for the entire day, even comparing themself to a decaying daisy- something very evidently beautiful yet years of rotting away has caused it to appear unsightly. Yeule’s vocals walk a fine line between almost being completely deprived of emotions, so as to represent the hopelessness and lack of joy the narrator suffocates in every day, while also having just enough emotion to keep the song from falling into monotony and keeping Yeule from feeling as if they do not care about the song’s quality- and I haven’t even mentioned the track’s last leg in which Yeule screams their brains out over a blistering guitar, both elements sitting as the foundation which Yeule belts out the song’s chorus of comparing their tender nature (“Sweetness, gentle / Kinder, mental”) to their contrasting cynical attitude (“Black hole, black sky”) with a deadpan inflection. All this is before an unexpected chord change to send the track off- just the cherry on top for this masterpiece of a single.
If Softscars does anything, it stands as a beacon of comfort for those battling their own mental health issues. It’s a statement from someone who is still suffering, though amidst the fire, is finally finding ways of coping with it. When Softscars wants to impress the listener, it does so with a maximalist ensemble of every trick in Yeule’s arsenal, disfigured guitars and pulverizing electronics ablaze; when it wants to strip it back to convey subdued beauty, it does so without skipping a beat; when it wants to suck, well, it never does. Twelve songs of Yeule perfecting the dreamy, noisy shoegaze-pop they began toying with on Glitch Princess- and the best part about it, with Yeule being such a shapeshifting artist, whatever the fuck the future has in store for Yeule could be a project just as exciting as Softscars… if not something even more magical.
I’m feeling uhhhhh… Decent 9 on this one
Favorite Tracks: x w x, sulky baby, softscars, 4ui12, ghosts, dazies, fish in the pool, software update, bloodbunny, cyber meat, aphex twin flame
Worst Track: inferno
My favorites of 2023: https://www.albumoftheyear.org/user/chode/list/110828/chodes-best-of-2023/