Founded in Brussels by the brothers Yvan and Alban Murenzi, YellowStraps has been nurturing a unique neo-soul blend that caresses the senses for nearly 10 years now, proudly championned by the bubbling Belgian rap scene (Romeo Elvis, Le Motel, L'Or du Commun, etc.). With Tentacle, the duo turns into a solo act (Alban leaves, Yvan stays) and pushes the boundaries without denying the DNA at its core. YellowStraps grows tenfold.
Throw in a guitar loop, ethereal vocals and piano chords, trap beats infused with jazz, a reunion with long time friends from the Brussels rap scene (Roméo Elvis and Swing), and you've got yourself "MERCI." Released earlier this Spring, this track is a classic Murenzi brothers that we've gotten to know and like since 2013. Their beginnings together with Le Motel (from "Pollen" to Mellow, 2016), their "Most Promising Artist" award and the Red Bull Elektropedia Awards ceremony in 2014, the pivotal COLORS session (2019), as well as the EPs Blame (2018) and Goldress (2020) are all encapsulated into one single. One could easily believe it was destined: this would be the last track they created as a duo. One big final family reunion before moving into its final form.
The rationale is fairly simple: following the Yellockdown Project (2020), YellowStraps' latest mixtape done from start to finish during lockdown, each track finished under a day with collabs from across the world (Crayon, Jae Luna, Louis VI etc...), Alban decides to take a step back. The decision has nothing to do with a fratricidal struggle, but is rather an awakening for the younger of the two. The pleasure drawn from creating is now being swallowed up by the pressure of success. "I can understand him," explains Yvan. "We've always made music as a hobby, and it's become our trade now. After the Yellockdown, there was a split. He understood that nothing would ever be the same again." The cover shows Yvan and Alban, sitting on a couch that's abnormally long, one on each end, smiling but already apart. "It must have been a premonition..."
Tentacle was built by Yvan in this absence, between the will to crystalize a continuation (say MERCI to the past) and explore new horizons. He digs further into his vocal abilities (in English but also in French), both in terms of vocal technique, giving his toplines depth and finesse, and in the manipulation of electronic effects (like autotune that had been up until now rejected "for the wrong reasons"). Most importantly, he got back into production (it had become Alban's playing field), alone or with a couple of close friends, like Jad El Alam, his manager, or Victor Defoort, his bass player. "I enjoy working as a close team, because we can all bring something to the table without compromising the creative direction. What I'm looking for is extremely precise in my mind."
Among those creative guidelines is a desire for something ever increasingly hybrid (it's been there since discovering King Krule at the very start of the band), blending-in Rock influences of his youth with tropisms of R&B, Neo-Soul and Electronica. It's a quest for "indescribable emotions" that wanders through melodic writing and experimentation. "I've spent days working on certain sounds and structures that weren't conventional, like a mad scientist in his lab. It was a way of marking my territory, redefining the boundaries of what YellowStraps was to me." And so, powerful records (the single "headown," all round elegantly pop but infectiously melancolic, but also "Notice," "Flowin," "Champagne," or the very emotional "Writer's Block" featuring the Belgian artist Blu Samu) hang out with mutant shapes ("Acequia," "156," the almost Ye-like "Necklace"). "The best compliment that one could ever give me would be that my music is impossible to pin down."
Everything changes, except for his favorite subject, love with a capital L, that who elevates and chokes, oftentimes in one motion. "My lyrics are about what touches me the deepest, what overwhelms me. I've always found it fascinating how relationships can take us far and induce extreme feelings." It's the only subject where Tentacle ties the knot on a trilogy. "The Blame EP was me opening the floodgates of hatred after my first long term relationship. Goldress was a more thoughtful reflection on a failed relationship. Tentacle embodies the acceptance phase. Love is always a mess, but I'm at peace with that."
The new YellowStraps is here, both ripe from a dense path traveled and blossoming with youth and inventivity. Less in tune with the Rap that has carried him, further still from "producer music," Tentacle goes without limit, between mental landscapes and the heart's trepidations.