Yonlu – A Society In Which No Tear Is Shed Is Incredibly Mediocre

January 01, 1970

(Luaka Bop)




Teenage angst and modern pop exist in perfect symbiosis, and
have done ever since the first kid decided to transpose their Holden Caulfield
ruminations to guitar. While you can file away most for its built-in adolescence/obsolescence,
once in a great while the drama of first-love crushed, social weirdo-ness, and hormonal
mood swings makes for surprisingly mature songwriting. But hand in glove with
those rare talents come self-absorption and young people who, to borrow the
title of psychologist Kay Jamison’s book, are “touched with fire” and too
easily burned. Brazilian teenager Vinicius Gageiro Marques, the son of a university
professor and politician who went by the name Yonlu on-line (his favored
domain) might’ve become one of these memorable young talents, but committed
suicide just short of his 17th birthday. He left behind a hard-drive
full of home-made music, from which these 14 cuts are culled.


There’s no doubt the kid had skills — or that he was
consumed by depression and thoughts of suicide. Even this green his knack for
melody and hooks – see disc-opener “I Know What It’s Like” — stands out on boss
nova-flavored pop songs sung in English that read like Elliot Smith/Gilberto
Gil hybrids. His acoustic guitar playing shows real sophistication, too, and
the looped, yearning choir (think Juana Molina), Nick Drake finger-patterns and
processed beats of disc-ender “Waterfall” would be the album’s most promising


But there’s no such thing as “promising” on a post-suicide
debut, and no escaping the heavy shadow that casts over this record. The
nylon-acoustic-and-voice beauty of “Humiliation” may capture adolescent confusion
more succinctly than a Warped Tour of aggro metal kids, but like the other
English-language songs the litany of spirit-crushing topics feels voyeuristic
in light of what happened. The cheerful gospel outro on “Katie Don’t Be
Depressed” almost reads like a bad joke, and the two minutes of “Suicide”
border on grave-robbing no matter what rationale you employ.


Some of the most affecting tracks – “Eatrela, Eatrela” and
“Lusna” – are sung in Portuguese, giving their Drake-like frailty a modicum of
emotional distance. Others are more experimental, but as much as one would like
to believe otherwise, these tracks – especially the nearly 6-minute hodge-podge
“The Boy and the Tiger” — are the still-incubating ideas of a fertile but undisciplined
mind, while still more borrow too obviously from their wellsprings. “Q-Tip,”
with its spoken, half-whispered narrative and transistor-radio field recordings
sounds too much like the Spanish post-rock band Migala, and “Deskjet Remix with
Sabupluse” may be short, but that doesn’t make it any less Four Tet.


Still, criticizing a 16-year-old for aping his influences –
especially ones this good – isn’t cricket either, but goes to the heart of the
matter: Talented beyond his years but just beginning to form what these songs
suggest would have been a formidable adult talent, Yonlu’s promise was cut
short, and that’s tragic. That it was cut short by his own hand is just a
mistake. A terrible, irrevocable mistake.  


: “Waterfall,” “Lusna” JOHN SCHACHT




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