Sun Sep 26

For years Yeek preferred to work alone. Across two albums and two EPs, the L.A.-based singer-songwriter handled producing, recording, mixing, and mastering by himself. Because his songs are personal and resistant to genre classification, this method suited him. The DIY approach made sense for his evocative, guitar-driven portraits of youthful wandering and wondering. Singing about sitting alone in his room on “Only in the West,” bummed because he has to board the bus while his drug-dealer friends are out driving cars — quintessential solo dolo music.

But not now. This year Yeek presents Valencia, his most emotionally lush and polished work to date, and his most collaborative too. Featuring production from his cousin, Kevin Halasan, and a smooth mix from Jeff Ellis, the engineer who has worked with Frank Ocean, Snoh Aalegra, and Omar Apollo, Valencia is indebted to the vitality of family, close friends, and new romance. After strengthening his voice on tour and with a vocal coach, Yeek’s performances on Valencia are confident and vulnerable, shaded heavily by the R&B records he heard growing up during family karaoke. “R&B music is a deeply-rooted part of Filipino-American culture,” he says.

Born in New Jersey, Yeek spent his first decade living in a large Filipino community. Then he moved to South Florida, where he wasn’t just the new kid in town but one of the only Asian people outside his family. Bonding with kids who wanted to make music, he found a place for himself by joining punk and hardcore bands, and rapping.

All this music touched his own, making for a sound that is totally contemporary and genre agnostic, but still grounded in what can be done in a bedroom with a microphone and some instruments. Though Yeek produced nearly all of Valencia, its ten songs are powered by community. “Whole gang gotta eat,” he sings on the title track, and he means it. After coming off his first headlining tour in Europe in 2019, he decided to recommit to working with the people closest to him. “My priority is putting on the people I’ve grown up with,” Yeek says. “I feel that better art comes from working with family and friends. Otherwise, it’s making art via email.”

Valencia’s first track is “Lumbago,” a mellow ode to family via memories of the back pain Yeek experienced as a young boy. His mom, his brothers, his cousin—they’re all embedded in the lyrics, sung over a slow bass riff, methodical drums, and a dreamy ever-present organ.

The flipside of working with your loved ones is an increased sense of pressure and responsibility, feelings Yeek explores on “Overthinking.” A propulsive, almost nervous bass line plays under his voice as he captures that sensation of watching your people laugh and have fun while you’re on the outside looking in, stuck in your head, running down your anxieties.

“3000 Miles” announces the album’s other big driving force: new love. More than any of Yeek’s other projects, Valencia is an R&B record—he’s really singing this time around. There’s no genre better equipped to channel the energy of a new relationship in all its complexity, from the lusty highs to the confusing late-night lows. Buoyant with anticipation, “3000 Miles” mimics the singular ache of a long-distance relationship, when all you want to do is race to the airport and get on a flight in order to touch that person you can’t stop thinking about. “How’d you feel if I came through late at night, 3000 miles?” he asks on the chorus, over the biggest drums on the album. It’s the embodiment of yearning.