Call it future R&B. Call it nostalgic disco doo-wop. Call it the sonic version of greasy food after a hangover. There’re a lot of ways you can describe Young & Sick, the musical project of Nick Van Hofwegen, and they are, for the most part, positive. His debut LP, in any case, is pumped full of positivity. It’s immediately charming, flecked with bits of gospel, jazz and elevator rock, which makes sense when you consider he’s also a visual artist who’s created album artwork for the likes of Robin Thicke and Foster The People.
The album’s opening track, Mangrove, is an immediate clue to the sort of stuff you’re getting into. It’s opens with synthetic keyboards skitzing around, a few sultry “oohs” and smart snapping. Then you get lines like this: “I am so damn happy, something must be very wrong.” It’s a familiar sentiment, but when brushed up against the unhindered ecstasy of Van Hofwegen’s instrumentation, it’s slightly unsettling. Like nursery rhymes soundtracking a horror movie.
The album continues with a crushed velvet ode to pain, Heartache Fetish, which fuses together electronic baubles with water-drop beats and smooth R&B vocals. Gloom swings with jazz syncopation and big, lounge singer vocals, but it is called Gloom, and predictably there’s a current of darkness running through it. Synthier bits like the chipped porcelain of Italo-disco sound sweet but might cut your ears.
Van Hofwegen’s strength is his ability to disarm the listener with Clockwork Orange-style juxtaposition. “Drape me in violence,” he croons, while fluttering butterfly beats zig-zag around hot sun rays of percussion in Valium. Feel Pain features a beat that sounds like a synthetic heart clattering against a rib cage, but Van Hofwegen sings like the head-over-heels protagonist from some musical.
The album closes with the Millenial-appropriate cut, Twentysomething, which makes sense once you realize that Young & Sick exists in a confined space: that of blissful ignorance. Suppressing the darkness with super-sweet pop may not be challenging, but damn it feels good. It’s not that Van Hofwegen’s ignoring the challenge of darkness; he’s just allowing you to see things in a different light. The entire album can be summed up by one unusual line in Mangrove: “I’ve been having the best nightmares.”