Bobtail Yearlings
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Bobtail Yearlings

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Brooklyn’s Bobtail Yearlings, led by one Bennett Lin, describe themselves as “prog folk-rock,” and damned if that unlikely description doesn’t actually fit. The band creates some of the most eccentric pop we’ve heard in quite a while; simultaneously sunny, cartoon-surreal and unsettling, this stuff definitely deserves a listen. - Time Out New York


Brooklyn-based folk-rock group Bobtail Yearlings does things with lyrics and music that no one has ever dreamed of. I first reviewed this CD for the station a few months ago, but somehow it keeps coming back up as something I have a strong desire to listen to. There are a LOT of references to things such as Norse mythology and the writings of Joyce and Beckett which make the lyrics REALLY interesting to listen to. I find it both crazy confusing to try to listen to through headphones, and one of the most brilliant uses of the English language of all times. It's something I think you have to hear for yourself. In addition to all this...the music and the SOUND of the songs is so damn catchy. - www.wsum.org


Intriguing and disconcerting, this confessional album is a work of literature, a folk pop concept album and a Brechtian song-cycle. Alienated, you bet. Hooked, without doubt. I spent ages listening to the multi-layered rhythms and the collage of influences. Eventually, I succumbed to the voice of singer Bennett Lin, which takes a while to adjust to. I spent even longer surfing the web to find out about the Bobtail Yearlings. Lin and his compatriots are fascinating, and I urge you to peek into their world and their music. Power to the vegans! - www.leicesterbangs.co.uk


In the tradition of Half-Handed Cloud (minus the blatant appeal to god and religion), we have Bobtail Yearlings. Bennett Lin, the main songwriter and singer, spent over four years arranging and composing the album. As it is quoted in their bio, Yearling’s Bobtail is an 18-song cycle about hurt, pain, disillusionment, friendship, relationships, and all those other kinds of -ships. Furthermore, Lin employs poetic techniques from Joyce and Beckett.

Musically, Yearling’s Bobtail jumps between cultures. It’s almost as if the principal Brian Eno and David Byrne applied on My Life in the Bush of Ghosts is being recovered here. To speak of the music on this album is to imagine Lin thinking of a fictitious culture and combining elements of world music to create an idiosyncratic pseudo-world music set of ballads. I imagine Lin and company are extraordinarily literate, musically inclined individuals. “Pchelka’s Starry Journey” features Russian folk music combined with traditional Tuvan throat singing. The result? Well, it’s certainly impressive. Reminds me of Frank Zappa’s We’re Only in it For the Money meets a compilation of rock songs interpreted by four year-olds (note: if anyone has the disc that has “Rape Me” sung by a four year-old, please PLEASE give it to me). Fans of Man Man and the cutesy appeal of cabaret Saturday morning cartoon rock might find something that’s worth listening to here. - www.transformonline.com


If I can fault them for anything here, it’s the fact that it seems that they’ve put all four years on this record: at sixty minutes, Yearling’s Bobtail is difficult to absorb for the first time in a single sitting. Thankfully, layers of lyrical and musical depth emerge on subsequent listens. Atop a number of influences that span from The Kinks (with mandolins!) to Sufjan Stevens (with mandolins!) to traditional Arabic and Celtic music (with mandolins!), as well as an inventive vocal style that sees two sets of lyrics that rhyme syllable-for-syllable sung simultaneously. Sure, it’s a divisive record. But when’s the last time an album you liked wasn’t? - www.goodhodgkins.com


Let us call this 'pure pop with playful undertones, yet strikingly beautiful at every angle'. Combining high energy (see: "M", or 'Maravijaya...' ), gloriously patterned tones (the dual-layered vocals within "On a Golden Cord) and enough instrumentation to make any Ghost album (Damon & Naomi's friends from Tokyo) seem somewhat hollow - label owner / musician / producer / everyman Bennett S. Lin has constructed an album that validates its importance with each new track revealed [insert the term 'dense' here; positively]. Lyrically, it would take chapters to document Lin's craft work that Yearling's Bobtail exposes - pick a number from 1 to 18 and press play -or- check the rhyme from "Grasshoppers Lie Heavy":

"This moron marooned, a method mapped in my cocoon / To mould me into a mystery mensch: No minutia left unmastered, Music cred with mindful manners merge, Once I metamorphose, certain I’d impress".

Should any other stranger read this bit of cryptic knowledge at your face, you'd likely call out for your crippled mother. Coming from Lin - it gets you a step closer to understanding where the guys coming from... where this is I cannot even begin to tell you [the postal code is 91326]. Get to know Yearling's Bobtail - the "Vegan Proclamation" and her advice on vinyl awaits you dear. - www.sctas.com


Discography

Mermaids I Have Known, 2001; Yearling's Bobtail, 2006; The Bobtail Method for Composing Unique Pop Melodies (published book), 2008.

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Bio

It's a maxim growing further entrenched among today's rock music vanguard: "You need to get onstage and reach an audience... You can't just hole up in your room writing songs all day... Music has returned to its populist roots, and that's exactly how it should be." For California-bred singer/songwriter Bennett Lin, trained in classical music as a youth but also active for years in the Oakland cowpunk and post-rock scenes, the romantic image of a free-spirited band on the road was never at odds with that of an ailing Mozart scribbling out rapt visions at the piano. Certainly music belongs to the masses, but its history is also awash in posthumous praise for far too many pioneers rejected in their own time. Thus, being asked to choose a side—populists versus visionaries—seemed like a strange, needless ultimatum. Surely there's room for everyone to sit together peacefully... isn't there?

In the end, life chose for him. Devastated over the breakup of a six-year relationship, Lin abandoned the rigors of band duties to create a cathartic personal album of eclectic folk rock melded with world influences, performing all the vocals and instruments himself while exploring ambitions only possible for a lone composer mapping out the songs first in notated manuscript. (The complete scores are viewable and free to download on the band website: www.bobtailyearlings.com/scores.html) Fast forward to the present, and the finished album indeed presents a stark contrast. Unlike a pyramid of indefinite expanse slowly raised layer upon layer by collective effort, Yearling's Bobtail stands like a cathedral at once both supporting and resting upon its arches: irreducibly whole, as if sprung forth instantly and fully formed from the mind of its single architect. Channeling Hoagy Carmichael and other Tin Pan Alley songwriters, melodies serve not as mere afterthoughts laid atop endlessly looped four-bar templates, but define the very song structures themselves, paving uneven but scenic pathways for palm-muted guitars and mandolins to weave intricate strands of counterpoint around and across.

Raised by hard-working Taiwanese immigrant parents, Lin began his musical training early, studying piano and violin as a child, then picking up the guitar, banjo, and drums on his own. As the first release of the autobiographical two-album set, Yearling's Bobtail I details Lin's strange childhood leading up to the start of his first relationship, opening with the dynamic rhythms and fluid key changes of "Didi" (meaning "little brother" in Taiwanese), an acoustic folk number told from the perspective of his older sister. With melody firmly established as its foundation, the album ventures toward other stylistic genres. In "Ash Wednesday", wistful Arabic microtones segue into a polyphonic Renaissance motet, while the raucous "Good Night, Sita" finds a teenage Lin awkwardly dropping off his date after an unsuccessful evening, as the torrent of his unspoken thoughts—a stream of consciousness delivery in homage to modernist writer James Joyce—is jostled and mocked throughout by the syncopated thumping of a Motown beat.

Frenetic dual mandolins imitate the sound of Russian balalaikas over Lin's trademark Tuvan throatsinging in "Pchelka's Starry Journey", which uses the story of Pchelka and Mushka, twin dogs killed in the Soviet space program, as an allegory for Lin's relationship with his autistic younger brother during a bizarre and heartbreaking period of his preadolescence. Bullied at school while family life at home was disrupted by his brother's constant fits and medical needs, one day Lin received a letter by mail proclaiming him to be a "Beyonder": an alien being of higher intelligence disguised in human form. Though an obvious scam designed to cheat the gullible and discontent, its words were instantly taken to heart by the unhappy child, who began sending away his allowance money for the next two years while obeying the letter's instructions to stoically shut himself off from the world, or as he now describes it, "being brainwashed by some mail order cult." The song ends with Lin being sent to school officials on suspicion of drug use, hinting at the lasting effects of the traumatic ordeal to be manifested in the second album to come.

"Odin" showcases an innovative lyrical technique of Lin's invention known as "doublespeaker rhyme," which involves writing two different sets of lyrics that rhyme syllable for syllable throughout a song. ("...buoy bobs through sea serpents, shivering for shivs unsheathed..." // "...coin toss to be hers from shivaree towards shivah seat...") While evoking the inner discord implied by such words as "newspeak" and "doublethink" in George Orwell's novel 1984, the technique is also aptly named because the two voices, sung in harmony, are completely separated in the mix—literally, one to each speaker. Like a split screen in cinema, "doublespeaker rhyme" holds many uses as a literary device, such as blurring