While it is highly likely that you may not have previously heard of YUFU & The Velvet Impressionism, their debut album Is It Vain To Be Awake? will definitely leave a lasting impression on its listeners. As Yufu Chen’s first musical work since performing with his former band Crocodelia, this self-proclaimed “vicious R&B” musician’s groove will reel you in and have you hoping for more. It is a blast to the past that doesn’t hold back on the punches that come in the form of experimental sounds. If you were to add rock and roll, R&B, soul, blues, and funk all into a blender and let it work its magic, the result would be Is It Vain To Be Awake?, with YUFU’s smoky vocals as the foam on top.
The tracklist is as follows:
1. Is It Vain?
2. We’ll Be Watching You Burn
3. If The Night Wills It
4. Dosage Makes The Poison
8. Sail With Me
9. Your Eyes Are My Drug
10. Spectacular II
11. Don’t Say Goodnight
The first track “Is It Vain?” comes bursting out of the gate with a psychedelic guitar riff - to say the least, it does make quite the first impression as well as grab the listener’s attention. Unlike the subject of YUFU’s lyrics, it’s not hard to see that he is certainly not trying to stay under the radar, nor is he trying to sit around on borrowed time. “We’ll Be Watching You Burn” is where the aforementioned “viciousness” begins to kick in, much like a wild animal baring a slight glimpse of its fangs. It is a groovy battle cry with a bite as YUFU dares: “so do your worst at me, and I bet you can only go so far”.
“If The Night Wills It” shows the listener that this album isn’t just about fiery kicks and fighting words. On this track, the claws sink back in and the fangs retract as YUFU shows a much softer side with a blues-infused ballad about being madly infatuated to the point, and so vulnerable as a result of it, while still being in disbelief (as made evident by the line “it shouldn’t be this good, it feels more than a sin”). The object of YUFU’s affections is so enchanting that she could likely lead him to a forest and have him do whatever she pleases, much like the girl in the creepy and twisted fairytale-gone-wrong track that follows, “Dosage Makes The Poison”.
The defiant “Awake” is one of the songs that stands out the most on Is It Vain To Be Awake?. It feels much like a counterpart to “We’ll Be Watching You Burn” as YUFU stands tall and continues to challenge those who he is up against, over a dizzying rhythm and snippets of vocals from a background choir.
lucid dreams in my head
when I sleep, I do obey
and I’m haunted, overtime
cut my head, I serve no lord
I’ll never be awake
Released as the first single off the album, the combination of the swing of the beat in “Hiss”, along with the sultry undertones beneath madness, makes it a track to not be overlooked; it grabs a hold of the listener much like a serpent locking its gaze onto its target. The mysteriousness spills into “Wizards”, which is arguably the most psychedelic song on Is It Vain To Be Awake?. The raw sound of the guitar riffs are reminiscent of the kind of sounds one might have experienced live at Woodstock in the ‘70s, but the chorus is so hypnotic combined with lyrics that give the listener the visual equivalent of a potential (depending on your perspective) bad trip: “see those wizards with machines in their hands? / they have come here, and they claim that we’ll all be saved”.
Much like how “Awake” goes hand in hand with “We’ll Be Watching You Burn”, the same could be said for “Your Eyes Are My Drug” with respect to “Hiss”. The entangled madness from infatuation reaches a new height in “Your Eyes Are My Drug” where YUFU boldly admits his addiction to his romantic interest and how escaping from her (and everything that has to do with her) is his only way to break free from the cycle.
it’s not poison, I’m just your fool
you’re my doctor, and I’m your wound
when the pupils dilate, let’s just do what we should do tonight
If you interpret the songs on the album in chronological order, what follows the getaway tune of “Your Eyes Are My Drug” (excluding the instrumental track in between, “Spectacular II”) would be “Don’t Say Goodnight”. On its own, “Don’t Say Goodnight” appears as a sweeter song on the surface as YUFU gently croons “where your mind flows like a river, caresses the sea, and I’m caught in your stream”. However, if you choose to connect it as part of the story that is told throughout the album, then it can be interpreted very differently: that the cycle between YUFU and his love interest just continues to repeat itself as he is drawn back in by her. And if that is the case, it stays true to the intriguing darkness that lies beneath the surface throughout the entirety of Is It Vain To Be Awake?.
Although this is only their debut album, YUFU & The Velvet Impressionism have gotten a firm grasp on taking retro sounds from multiple genres, and mixing it all up to turn it into a unique sound of their own that is both classic and fresh at the same time.