One of the most thrilling ways to awaken one’s inner child is revisiting the albums that made you feel seen when adolescence convinced you of your invisibility. The promise of such cathartic melodrama is why Emo Nights are ragingly successful. It’s also why yeule’s softscars feels so electrifyingly urgent.
Few artists in recent years have been on a creative streak as exciting and original as yeule, the Singaporean singer-songwriter-producer also known as Nat Ćmiel. Their previous albums were about breaking free of bodily imprisonment through A.I. cyborgian transformation and drony electronica. On softscars, they’re combining their human experience with their cyber identity, drawing from childhood influences like Avril Lavigne, My Chemical Romance, and the Smashing Pumpkins. “Post-humanism and cyborg theory came from a deep hatred for my body,” they explained. “A lot of my struggles came from gender dysphoria and eating disorders, which very much have to do with the physical form. Now I want to feel human sometimes. I want to feel like I have bearings. I want to feel like I’m real.” Their latest album softscars feels alive, like blood is pulsing through it.
Across three full-length albums — 2019’s Serotonin II, 2022’s Glitch Princess, and now softscars — yeule has been jumping back and forth between realities, peeling away at digital simulations and crawling out of their skin. Their first couple albums exposed yeule’s desire for escape from personal demons. “I don’t want to be in my body,” they eerily crooned on “Flowers Are Dead” from last year’s LP, their first for experimental electronic hub Ninja Tune after making the leap from indie mainstay Bayonet. “How can I burn out of my own real body,” they sweetly sang on the following track “Eyes.” They built a delicate web of electronic ambient pop music around these vulnerable revelations. Piano keys trickle alongside steely, clanging percussion for a reeling ballad; synths blossom amidst a soft, percolating electronic drumbeat. Their sound is never as searing as the lyrics that whisper by. But on softscars, that subtlety all but disappears.
It’s not necessarily that yeule has jumped genres; it’s more like they’ve found a part of themselves that makes the bigger picture more textured, less pixelated. This project — with contributions from Singaporean musician Kin Leonn and Grammy-winning British producer Mura Masa — is a composite of volatile hard rock, acidic shoegaze, sickly nostalgic piano waltzes, and Energizer Bunny electro-pop. They manage these sonic shifts like effortlessly jumping through realms. The influence of Siamese Dream is evident on tracks like “dazies” and “software update.” On both, yeule shifts between vertigo guitars and melancholic acoustic strums, showcasing that they’re at their best finessing between soft and hard textures.
Biting off flesh, bleeding sores, overflowing honey, growing flowers, rotting earth, broken bodies, and skin like cinnamon — yeule’s ever-expanding world is also more lyrically tactile than ever. Sometimes it can be overwhelming, like the glitchy piano swirl that morphs into a firework blast that opens the album. They plunge us into their visceral world that feels like being forced to be a spectator on the frontlines of a war. No personal battlegrounds are off-limits — self-medicating, time-traveling with their inner child, relationships that trigger insanity, and mourning friends gone too soon.
Yeule’s music has always dealt with the emotional ugliness of having a body, but softscars grapples that human or robot existence contain imperfect confinements. Opener “x_w_x” is an enraged list of their coping with existence (“Feel too much, medicate/ Overwhelmed, isolate”) and their own man-machine creation story. “God created man/ Motherboard, wires and/ Blood, bones, flesh, breathing/ Suicide engineering!” they scream. On the other hand, yeule’s lyrics are sprinkled with reminders that a digital body can be as flawed as a physical one via rust, malware, and malfunction. The body fails and the mind leaves gaps similarly to robotic miswiring. At times softscars can be a spiraling reconciliation with the harmful search for perfection; at others, it’s a recognition of imperfection’s beauty.
Although yeule’s work is extremely personal — the songs here are billed as intimate snapshots of yeule’s own, well, scars — their whole catalog represents the growing desire to not be confined by today’s norms. If you look in society’s mirror and can’t find yourself, that experience turns you into something you can’t recognize. Yeule’s music is the aftermath of that experience, destroying it and finding a whole new way of being perceived. In an interview, they explained how they want to understand their existence: “I like to be perceived as non-binary or not perceived physically at all. Sometimes, I like existing just as a concept or an enigma.” It’s a sentiment that’s echoed on “Blood Bunny” when they ask, “Don’t you feel so pure/ When you don’t have a body anymore?” There’s an ache to exist outside of bodily norms and shame.
As unsettling as it can be at times, it’s a thrill and joy to watch someone untangling their emotional knots and stabbing the monsters that haunt them. When I think of yeule’s metamorphosis, I’m reminded of Sasha Geffen’s Glitter Up The Dark, where they confirm that “music and gender nonconformity have gone hand in hand since long before pop music emerged as a product.” softscars doesn’t make light of life’s crippling gravity — it reminds us that being human and an artist are a constant struggle of unbecoming and becoming. “I was forcing myself to separate myself from my artist persona and trying to tone myself down,” they said of their previous work. “I felt like people wouldn’t like me if I was really that.” Their work continually represents the fractured self, malleable and unpredictable in a world deluded with binaries, scars arising as we attempt to heal ourselves in a continually damaged world. From human to cyborg to human, yeule is continually unraveling how existence extends beyond the physical realm. Here, they affirm that it’s good to feel real — glitches, scars and all.