Photo: Neil Krug / Ninja Tune

Yeule Makes Artful Glitchpop for the AI Era on ‘Softscars’

In weird ways, Yeule’s softscars works as a satisfying slice of artful pop for the Anthropocene that oozes catastrophe and captures a real cultural moment.

Ninja Tune
22 September 2023

On their new album softscars, yeule builds an atmosphere. They scream, whisper, rumble, and waft; they are constantly in motion. There are catchy electropop jams, and then, right up against them, sounds so sharp and jarring it all borders on uninhabitable for the faint of heart. Softscars, though, is a realm for the deep feelers, the sonically curious, and the adventurers. These listeners will want to immerse themselves in yeule’s soundscape. They will not be disappointed.

A big bang of sorts opens the album as “x w x” finds yeule screaming their way off a chrome-plated cliff of self-medication and digital disconnect (“God created man, motherboard, wires, and / Blood, bones, flesh, breathing, suicide engineering,” they shout in the final chorus). The stage is set, a raw cybernetic tangle of a world, mechanisms fully exposed and sparking in the posthuman desert wind. There’s never a moment quite as ferocious as this opening, nor does there need to be. The rest of softscars is spent exploring.

Musically, softscars falls somewhere in the overlap between glitchy IDM and pure pop: cyborg anthems that recognize the productive and deeply emotional links between nostalgia and futurism. The wailing electric guitars of the goth rock ballad “dazies” beside the delicate waltz of the piano solo “fish in the pool” make for a thought-provoking juxtaposition. Enhancing this contrast are the breaths and electronics of the following track, “software update”, a love song from AI to human (“When I leave my flesh you can / Download my mind / And pick out the pretty parts for you”) set in a genuinely uncanny valley.

Chillwave grooves meet gloomy lyrical themes on “sulky baby” (“Sultry face, sulky in lace / Sex that leaves you effaced”) and “softscars” (“A fallen angel thirsty for / The blood and gore, a painful sore”). Retro pop punk barbs pierce the skins of “4ui12” and “cyber meat.” Both “inferno” and “bloodbunny” see yeule lilting their way through the morbid in an eerie singsong cadence (“Drink honey, drink blood / You look like an angel god”). Softscars ends with the spacious strains of “aphex twin flame”, which loops from airy and acoustic to fire and fury and back again.

Flowing through this veritable odyssey is yeule’s intense commitment to their work, whatever forms that take. For as much as they sing songs of dissociation, for all the otherworldly sounds and the avant-garde robotics, everything on softscars captures a very real cultural moment. The lines between artifice and organism continue to blur, and yeule takes full advantage of this oft-alarming ambiguity, pushing their craft deep into uncharted ways of being and sounding while still staying firmly grounded in the pop, rock, and EDM sensibilities that make their music, as well as the emotions that undergird it, accessible.

In weird ways, softscars works as a satisfying slice of artful pop for the Anthropocene that oozes catastrophe. Both the haunter and the haunted yeule pulls us into trenches both odd and familiar, and we emerge ourselves but, fittingly enough, invisibly marked with the titular soft scars.

RATING 7 / 10