Sitting down with my notebook for a first listen, I adamantly tried not to get caught up in descriptions with romanticized cliché references to Cézanne paintings, sleepy villages, artsy cafes, or train rides home. Alas, I set myself up for inevitable failure listening to Simone White’s Yakiimo album riding a train northbound for the holidays on a clear, winter New England morning. Snow had just fallen; I was ending the most significant semester I had had at university; the rhythm of the album tread effortlessly with the speed of the train. It was nauseatingly perfect, and all I could do was laugh and submit to the indulgence of the cliché moment. So, I apologize.
As soon as I pressed play on the first track, “Bunny in a Bunny Suit,” as we pulled out of the Providence station, I felt as though it was a soundtrack for my journey home, physically and metaphorically. The song is fittingly about someone who has realized that she has lost herself after years of trying to change for others. For me, I was returning home, finally “pretending to be myself again.”
Regarding the sound, do not mistake the pretty vocals and poetic lyrics of the album for being shallow. It is not necessarily edgy, but definitely eccentric as the artist’s darkness subtly emerges. The tone of the album may be honest, pure, slightly melancholy, and sweet, but definitely not fragile or playful in a passive way. Its vulnerability is deceiving.
Born into a family of extraordinary creativity, with her folksinger mother, sculptor father, and burlesque-dancer grandmother, White taught herself to play the guitar and writes most of the songs on the album. The album has 12 short tracks, all under four minutes long, with acoustic instrumentation, simple percussion, anecdotes, and the repetitive driving rhythm of a personal journey. Tracks “Victoria Anne,” written about the playful memories of a childhood friend, and “Baby Lie Down With Me,” influenced by reading Carson McCullers, bring a happy, yet at times, haunting element which is further complemented by the even darker lyrics of “A Girl You Never Met,” about someone too tired to keep on living, and “Without A Sound,” which gives a detailed description of the final moments of a failed relationship.
The first two tracks, including the one mentioned above and “Candy Bar Killer,” are covers of original songs written by friends Frank Bango and Richy Vesecky, which have slightly edgier lyrics focusing more on the awkward experiences and pains of growing up. The album continues with songs about love, despair and longing: longing for an ex-lover in “Your Stop,” a school crush in “Olivia.”
“Yakiimo,” the title of the album, refers to the Yakiimo men she heard singing their “haunting songs” while selling the stone roasted mountain sweet potato, encapsulating the “emotion and subtly” she wanted to capture in her album. Inspired by a children’s counting book, “Train Song” adds a lightness to the album. The last two tracks diverge slightly from the style of the previous tracks, particularly with a more country sounding “Let the Cold Wind Blow.” White described in an interview childhood memories of her grandma singing “St Louis Blues,” the last track of the album, in a “deep throaty voice.”
White has had international success since her first album, I Am the Man, playing on stages across the globe and having her track “The Beep Beep Song” featured in an Audi car commercial. Sounding like a female Nick Drake, she also has a Norah Jones aspect to her; however, Simone White is unlike anything else in pop, rock, and folk genres. Her recently released second album is definitely worth a listen.