Yasmin Williams has described her method to acoustic guitar as a form of inventive problem-solving. Drawn to the instrument after mastering Guitar Hero 2, she dreamed of tapping alongside the fretboard like rock virtuosos earlier than her. Unable to copy their fashion, she laid the guitar on her lap, tuned the strings in concord with one another, and performed it like a keyboard. Drawing from a love of hip-hop, she sought an underlying rhythm all through her wordless, melodic compositions. With out an accompanist, she hooked up a kalimba—a kind of thumb piano—on the backside of her instrument, plucking it along with her proper hand whereas her left navigated the strings.
Williams’ ingenious fashion, which has additionally concerned sporting faucet footwear and taking a cello bow to her instrument, has made her stand out within the subject of solo guitarists. However the energy of her music is its immediacy. The 24-year-old shouldn’t be solely a talented technician but additionally an instinctive songwriter, penning memorable compositions that, even at their most open-ended, proceed in a unfastened verse-chorus construction. Her clean and immersive enjoying belies the complexity under the floor. It’s this expertise that permits her to, say, cover a Swae Lee and Post Malone song, and have it sound as pure and spellbinding as her personal work.
Whereas Williams’ 2018 debut Unwind felt like a showcase for her versatility as a guitarist, her second album, City Driftwood, presents her extra totally as a composer. It’s extra centered and fleshed out than its predecessor, with Williams complimenting her acoustic guitar enjoying with West African devices just like the kora and djembe. She has described the album as an summary diary of her 12 months in 2020: Opening with the sunshine optimism of “Sunshowers,” it darkens into knottier, extra contemplative materials over the course of 10 songs. Pensive and bittersweet, the temper can recall William Tyler’s sonic storytelling or Mary Lattimore’s serene harp experiments.
Williams’ songwriting matches into an ongoing pattern of instrumental music that extra intently remembers the brand new age-leaning temper music of the Windham Hill label than the droning, pastoral fingerstyle method of figureheads like John Fahey. However a part of the fun of City Driftwood is how untethered Williams sounds to any custom in anyway: She has a present for penning melodies that really feel as catchy as pop songs, as within the calmly descending chorus of “Juvenescence,” however her method to the instrument additionally permits her to confound expectations, making you query the supply of every overtone and rhythm.
Probably the most dazzling moments are sometimes essentially the most intricate. In “Swift Breeze.” Williams makes use of the whole lot at her fingertips like a percussion instrument, from the harmonics excessive alongside the fretboard to her persistent knocking in opposition to the wooden of the physique. In quieter songs like “By means of the Woods” and “Dragonfly,” she finds melodies in repeated, hammered-on notes like cycles of birdsong. The clear, keyed-in manufacturing makes for a uniformly serene pay attention however Williams’ efficiency is masterfully bodily; her strumming can sound like brushes on snare drums whereas her fingerpicking can echo like mild faucets throughout cymbals.
Aside from a mournful violin accompaniment from Taryn Wooden in “Adrift,” the one presence moreover Williams arrives late within the album. Djembe participant Amadou Kouaye provides a gentle pulse by way of the title monitor, as his hand-drumming guides the album towards its narrative climax. “‘City Driftwood’ is extra just like the music I grew up listening to than some other music I’ve launched to this point,” Williams mentioned in a press launch, explaining the significance of paying homage to her heritage as a Black guitarist. As her kora blends with Kouaye’s rhythms, the collaboration provides a pure evolution for Williams’ music: Inside these interlocking grooves, she is each listening and performing, discovering her place in an unlimited historical past and fearlessly pushing ahead.
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