In creating this second album Yola aimed to write classic pop songs that crossed genre, time, spaces, continents and palettes. Her excellent last album was mainly written collaboratively in the studio with producer Dan Auerbach bringing in different musicians to write with, a strategy which brought her much success in the Americana music world. Due to to the pandemic Stand For Myself began in isolation, allowing for Yola to write from a more personal perspective.
Some fans, myself included, were initially a little confused by the styling of this new era – the album cover’s psychedelic, neon aesthetic suggested a different music direction. At first I actually didn’t even recognise Yola in these pictures so different was her look from the natural hair, floaty dress, acoustic guitar player image of the past.
Thankfully this album remains true to her vintage inspired, genre fluid sound. In recent interviews she’s made it clear that in fact the intention was for the new project to reflect more of her true personality than before.
Opening song ‘Barely Alive’ sets a soft, seventies lounge vibe. Lyrically she explores the fears everyone has shared through the isolation of the pandemic, building to a hopeful question ‘When will you start living, what will you do with your life?’. A thoughtful, soulful swoon.
Her voice shines on ‘Dancing Away in Tears’, which has a bit more of the disco influence which the cover artwork suggested (albeit a depressive at the disco since she can’t quite escape the heartbreak songs).
‘Diamond Studded Shoes’ is a powerful statement of intent, the stand out song on the album which underlines the inequalities of an unjust society. The lyrics offer a rebuke to all the false promises of our politicians, showing a more socially conscious element to her songwriting.
Brandi Carlile guests on ‘Be My Friend’ and this song has the most beautiful tone showing how well these stunning singers complement each other. Great Divide evokes the Aretha & Dusty sixties soul style of Faraway Look, with a thoughtful set of lyrics about distance and longing.
The emotional vulnerability so present on the last album continues to simmer under the surface, notably on the single Starlight where she dreams of making a connection with someone in real life and not just in her imagination.
The second half of the album starts with If I Had to Do It All Again, which is a stylish rnb number quite different than the rest of the album. Yola’s distinctiveness is in the way she mixes her vintage sounds, making something new in the melting pot. Now You’re Here is reminiscent of the opening song, a hazy, sunny dream. Whatever You Want has a great melody, and for me her vocals are the strongest when she adds bite to the delivery. I love the classic sixties sound of Break the Bough, which has a songwriting credit for Liz Rose too.
On ‘Like a Photograph’ she faces up to the reality of how quick life passes, how memory and love is all we have to cling to. The structure of the album works with this song as the quiet epiphany before she blasts us away with her closing epic anthem Stand For Yourself. The end is a new beginning. I’m alive, she sings as though she’s shocked to find herself not just surviving but thriving.
Overall this is an impressive second album and I remain as blown away by her voice as I was when I first heard it. You know these songs really have to be heard live and this is the kind of artist who will pick up new fans wherever she goes – we just need to get safe tours running again.
Finding her own autonomy, her own style, her own way through the music industry has been a hard path. Yola’s walked through fire and learned how to Stand For Herself – it’s a privilege to see her succeed.
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