NME got it wrong. God-like status belongs to this man.
James Yuill is a one-man powerhouse. Working out of a quite big guitar case that contains only an acoustic axe, a laptop and a few electronic gizmos that make bleepy noises when twiddled, he's somehow fashioned one of the year's most accomplished and affecting albums; all while keeping up a tour schedule that makes Iron Maiden's legendary World Slavery Tour look like a bright and breezy walk in the park AND he's been working on remixes for other acts too. Sheesh.
Although usually compared to folk artists such as Nick Drake and Tim Buckley, and dance/electronic artists such as Chemical Brothers and Aphex Twin, Yuill actually makes a noise more like Elliott Smith kicking an Amstrad CPC to death. It's folk and pop and electro and dance all rolled into one; or shoved into one quite big guitar case if you prefer. And, put simply, it's simply wonderful.
Although opener 'You Always Do' is a buttery, no-nonsense folk-pop staple, 'Left Handed Girl' is an almost perfect introduction to Yuill's trademark sound; break-beats, loops, fuzzy bass lines, the aforementioned acoustic guitar and graceful vocals - and the synth staccato notes nicked from the Cure's 'Close to Me' are a delight too.
The next five tracks form the backbone of the album and, indeed, they're also Yuill's best material. The monolithic 'No Pins Allowed' is an electric, hand-clapped, Euro-trash big-beat dance pop monster with chords nicked out of 2 Unlimited's back-up bag, a thumping bass that makes your brain feel like it's in a cave and a beautiful, melodic nylon strum so sweet it makes honey taste like razorblades.
Single 'This Sweet Love' brings that classy retro-gaming sound back to the fore and melds it with hammering kick drum heartbeats, while 'Head Over Heels' is a simple little love song that deals with simple pleasures simply wonderfully: "I need your love / I need you in the morning / To make me tea / To kiss me when I'm yawning" and the xylophone licks inject a sense of jaunty bounciness that's sure to reduce naysayers to mush too.
However, good as these heady concoctions of dance-beat flicks and chiming guitar licks might be, debut single 'No Surprise' and its B-side 'The Ghost' are by far the star performers of this quintet. The former is a delicate yet strangely rumbustuous melancholic melange, while the latter is a quietly devastating meditation on relationships and emotional conflict that's got killer, yet beautifully disconsolate lyrics: "You stole emotion from the man who needs it most / You gave it to the space between us I shall now become the ghost", and when the bass drops at 3:26, you can't help but lapse into moody blue awe.
Elsewhere, Yuill turns confessor with the stripped-down and mostly acoustic 'How Could I Lose' (on which he unexpectedly throws a cello into the mix and also sounds as close to Elliott Smith as perhaps anyone has come), while 'Breathing In' is a delicate break-up call that's as honest as the day is long: "You're going under and you're taking me too / I'm starting to disappear".
Eager to mix things up, the album also shows affection for full-bore dance toe-tapping twitchiness too. 'She Said in Jest' has chunky beats and a fat bass to match, while 'Over the Hills is a faster, poppier proposition that triumphantly references the most commercial and accessible Aphex Twin material. Lyrically they're both as dry as Jack Dee drinking gin in a Cairo bar, but somehow Yuill wonderfully injects palpable warmth into both.
'Somehow' is an odd closer; a particularly poisonous retort to an ex-lover which you wouldn't have thought Yuill capable of: "I know you want me to hurt myself" but it's one that's got a quite stunning backing vocal and also perhaps Yuill's best solo vocal performance too: defiant yet delicate; despondent yet determined.
And so, to the fawning, closing platitudes: 'Turning Down Water For Air' is certainly one of 2008's highlights. James Yuill's dedication is second only to his enviable talent and he's created not just a solid album here, but that rare beast that deserves to display the following accolade in sticker form on the cover: "ALL KILLER - NO FILLER".
The 13/13 rating is a rare thing at R13 Towers. That said, this record fully deserves its maximum rating. Why? Because 'Turning Down Water For Air' really is THAT DAMN GOOD.