"New Year's Day" is the brand new debut EP from the talented Milwaukee indie-rock band Yahara. The band consists of James Sauer (lead guitar), Cheston VanHuss (bass guitar, background vocals), Justin Otto (rhythm guitar, lead vocals), Eric Fricke (keys) and Nick Lang (percussion).
I recently had the opportunity to meet the band and hear an incredible live performance of the songs on "New Year's Day" at an intimate Sofar Sounds show in Chicago. I learned that they had just recently changed their band name (from Heavy Leaves). Regardless of the band name, the tracks on this EP are a well-written, performed and well-produced set of songs.
"Steelers Dynasty" opens the EP and sets the mood and stage for what follows. I believe the title is a reference to the Pittsburgh Steelers "golden team" of the 1970's with intro lyrics:"I've been clean since 1983 | Don't recall the Steelers Dynasty". The track builds from minimal electric guitar strings (reminiscent of early Wire) to full band by its chorus. Justin's vocals bring to mind a smooth Bob Dylan mixed with a subdued Black Francis (Pixies). The tempo is driving, but relaxed enough to tell the story of the subject who "stock[s] the shelves at CVS" and hasn't figured it all out yet. My favorite line: "I haven't picked a higher power yet, but I pray for his help twice a day". This is a great opening track.
Next up is "You Don't Gotta Be Lonely Tonight", arguably the EP's most melodic and upbeat song, with gentle guitar and just the right level of backup vocals, harmony, and percussion. This is the song you'll be humming after a few listens to the EP.
"If you just unlatch your door, I won't ask for nothing more,
Let me come inside, You don't gotta be lonely tonight"
Check out the following live performance of this track to get a flavor of what Yahara delivers on stage.
YOU DON'T GOTTA BE LONELY TONIGHT (live performance):
"God Bless the Engines" is probably the most "folky" song on the EP and starts off with crisp acoustic guitar. The lyrics pay tribute to inventors and the hard-working people that were responsible for bringing those great inventions (airplanes, computers, cellphones) to life:
"God bless the engines, and bless every wheel
Bless the men that built birds out of shimmering steel"
The closing and title track "New Year's Day" is a reference to the death of iconic singer-songwriter Townes van Zandt who died on January 1, 1997 in Smyrna, Tennessee. This song has clever lyrics and a great singalong chorus: "Come on Selena, baby let's go downtown".
The style is slightly reminiscent of The Pogues, but with much more polished vocals. Some of the more memorable and brilliant lyrics of this song include:
"There's a girl bathed in green neon light
She's got eyes like George Jones
and she smiles just like Jesus Christ"
"I was naked as Adam, nameless as a country road"
Excellent songwriting and storytelling.
So, check out this band! If you live in or near Milwaukee, Wisconsin, the band is having an official EP release event at Company Brewing on July 24, 2016. Definitely worth checking out.
FInd out more about Yahara on their Facebook page, and check out their Bandcamp page for details of their "New Year's Day" EP after its official release.
Above: Yahara live at Sofar Sounds Chicago, July 15, 2016.