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Yes Chef! – Drive Safe EP (Review)

The 16-second self-titled cacophony at the beginning of Drive Safe builds momentum that launches the listener through the rest of the 20-minute EP and much, much further. It fills you with a type of positivity that is often lacking in the emo scene, where several of this band’s members have their roots.

In the Charlotte, NC band’s own words, “‘Yes Chef! [is] an unashamed call to arms; a war cry against passivity and angst. Not unlike the reality TV shows that inspired the name, Yes Chef! is about defining your own narrative and finding meaning where there is none.”

In the name of this “war cry” the album opens with, they then launch into a full-fledged attack with “Chelsea” (music video below). This track is a glorious 6/8-count anthem that opens with a trumpet/clarinet fanfare leading us into battle. The vocals, by Leith K. Ali and KC Marie Roberge, then enter as the music relaxes slightly. This track is packed with such force that sometimes it seems close to chaos, but then it all comes together, stopping and starting on a dime.

Such reckless drive and positivity may seem naive, but this band is led by members of Charlotte sweethearts It Looks Sad., Ol’ Sport, and Futurists; some true veterans of the scene. After songwriter Leith K. Ali’s solo project became too ambitious to contain, he recruited his friends and housemates to create Yes Chef!, a band that truly breaks the mold of the emo/punk scene it was formed around.

One way they defy genre norms is with song lengths. Unlike the short, frantic songs that many bands in the genre write, the songs on this debut EP are all longer than 3 minutes, creating whole worlds within themselves. The longest, clocking in at 4 minutes and 51 seconds, is the third track, “Bank Account.”

“Bank Account” opens with rolling guitars that give airy horns context. Clarinet throughout the verse adds texture and depth, and the chord progression builds a feeling of tension that isn’t broken until two minutes into the song. The gang vocals in the chorus bring an uplifting vibe until it all comes down to reveal a wry slide guitar played by trumpeter Ben Bradford. It mellows here and Yes Chef! creates a beautiful atmosphere that’s used as a foundation that they build upon until it finally breaks down into a fantastic pay-off at the end.

“Doin’ Okay?” slows things down and gives the listener a rest after the aggressive highs of the first half of the EP. The interplay between horns and guitars here is sublime. “Empty” feels like a tug-of-war between heavy and restrained, with Peyton Glendinning’s clarinet softly playing the referee. The steady chug of this track is perfect for a fast drive down the highway.

Drive Safe closes with “Wax Wings / So Close”, a track that feels like a melancholy wrap-up saying, “Sorry we have to go, but it was fun while it lasted.” While it may have less of the pep that the EP opened with, it ends in a way that feels utterly satisfying and hopeful. In the final moments, the instrumentation drops to guitar and a 3-part vocal harmony that sings you softly into the night.

This debut EP feels like a foot kicking open a door. Yes Chef! so boldly proclaims their presence that you can’t help but feel the heat from the kitchen.

Drive Safe is available as of June 12, 2020 on Bandcamp and all other streaming platforms.