San Francisco is a treasure trove of dark corners, but even more so, dark peaks. Climbing to the tops at night, however, will not afford a better view of the stars as they are likely hidden behind the fog. Instead one peers down into the valleys of twinkling lights. This reverse stargazing can be almost as breathtaking as the heavens themselves and it's an experience that is unique to this place. Mystery and intrigue (and perhaps a little bit of adrenaline) are what draw one into the darkness and into In Fits In Dreams, Yassou Benedict's latest E.P. This five-song project is packed with subtle twists and turns, unexpected moments, and getting lost. If you want to explore the darkness with Yassou Benedict, they are playing Bottom of the Hill on Friday, November 8, the homecoming finale to thier current tour. I caught up with them while they were in Portland to ask about the E.P., their unique take on music, and what they give back to the San Francisco music scene.
When asked to help me genre-fy the music, Lilie Bytheway-Hoy mentioned that the band is often hard to pin down. They don't really describe [their sound], even though asked all the time. "People compare us to wildly different things. It's smoky, maybe that is what we will start calling it. Smoky music." Smoky is an apt description as the band's music hangs heavy in the air and fogs the brain a bit. Bytheway-Hoy's voice coaxes us around the dark corners where we are met by the complicated and subtle arrangements of band members James Jackson, Patrick Aguirre, AJ Krumholz, and Theo Quimby. As Bytheway-Hoy mentioned, it's particularly difficult to place Yassou Benedict's sound. There are percussive and swelling ambient moments that reference Radiohead, tight but airy combinations that feel similar to the XX, and complicated, subtle layers that The National is well known for. Occasionally Passion Pit might rear it's electronic looped head, but only for a moment. The more you listen, the more the music feels shaped by sophisticated layering.
Photo: Nick Santoro
The difference between Yassou Benedict and other bands with a female vocalist is that while Bytheway-Hoy is at the front of it all, she somehow isn't. The music and the vocals swirl so seamlessly it's hard to figure out where one ends and the other begins. Her singing style is not angsty like a Gwen Stafani or Fiona Apple, and she's not too dreamy like Mazzy Star's Hope Sandoval. Bytheway-Hoy's voice floats, but is cognitive, there's a weight to her words that tells us there's experience here, that she's felt pain like the rest of us but isn't going to whine about it. She described their music arrangement as coming "from a place of ignorance. We get bored easily... but in some way it is easier for us to write with no construct or boundaries."
Two songs in particular are indicative of the breadth of musical exploration present on this E.P. "The Cloisters" is meditative; Bytheway-Hoy's chanting seems to be controlling the rate at which we breathe with her. This song illuminates Yassou Benedict's lyrical style. Words are present, but they are not about narrative or storytelling. This track is also where the darkness is heaviest, providing the backdrop for a nightscape, which is, according to the band, the best way to fall into a song. "The darkness is always more interesting. That feeling is pure life, similar to what you feel when a song overtakes you." On the flip side, the titular "In Fits In Dreams," is much more poppy and feels as though it is the only track meant for the light. The song tells the tale of a boy waiting for nightfall so that he can dream a dream in which his mother gives him direction. The story is what illuminates the song. Bytheway-Hoy's voice gets a little strained, but it's still bold and dramatic, backed by electronic drum beats, wispy horn sounds, quick bass lines and guitar plucking.
Being able to embody these contradictions is what makes Yassou Benedict a welcome addition to the San Francisco music scene, even though they've been here for a few years now. They know they stand out. "I don't think there are many bands crossing genres as much as we do. There are amazing bands, and we keep finding new ones that are really good everyday. That and our live show are what stand out the most. The songs definitely transform for the show, becoming bigger and much more emotional when played in front of an audience."
Next time you're looking for the perfect tunes to accompany dark adventures, turn to Yassou Benedict and fall in love with the unknown and the unexplored. To read more of the interview with Lilie Bytheway-Hoy go to places we don't know.
Yassou Benedict plays Bottom of the Hill in San Francisco on Friday, November 8, 2013. For tickets and more information visit bottomofthehill.com. To listen to In Fits In Dreams visit Yassou Benedict page on soundcloud.com.