Review Summary: Youth Group take a new, poppier approach to their music, for better or for worse. Some of the edge is gone, but an overall great listen.
Even as I type this very sentence, I am threatened by the empty page I see before me. How do I open this review? Do I start with a cliché line about how the album art suits the music? Or how feelings have such a so and so on yadda yadda? Indeed, it seems pointless to introduce an album with such unnecessary poetic statements and deep thoughts. It doesn't help one buy or relate to the album in such a sense as actually describing the music. The true nature of the review is to establish trust in the reader and convince them to buy the album, no? Then why is it deemed necessary to begin with shallow statements and unrelated quips and phrases? So many questions, so few answers.
A review is a literary piece of art when done properly. While the intent to persuade the reader is still there, it is done with such a dancing grace that it's undeniably an artistic work that is done with a passion for such a subject, in this case music. It takes a devoted listener to transform an ordinary review into one such thing. However, like all things the media has presented us with, reviews can also be done horrible wrong. Useless concepts have come and gone, track by track reviews despised and generic statements such as "this rocks!" and "omg awesome album1!!1" exclaimed. Indeed, it takes a special devotion, train of thought and intact persuasiveness to do it properly. Perhaps some questions need no be asked because it is best left unkown. Such is the situation of the until recently mythical musical maturity of the Australian band Youth Group.
I've heard many a thing about the new album from Youth Group. It's supposed to sound more like Britpop. It's like a tour down memory lane to the days of The Beach Boys and The Beatles. It's darker. It's lighter. Heaver. Sadder. Happier. Problem is, without any way of hearing it, the wildest assumptions are made. Perhaps it's one of the most diverse albums of the decade as of yet? Maybe the new sound is a thing of exciting and a solid reason for celebration within the music industry? So perhaps you can imagine my excitement when I saw an import copy of Casino Twilight Dogs
Unfortunately, maybe $35 was pushing it a bit.
You see, things have
changed for Youth Group. The overall sound for the album is much lighter and happier than it's predecessor, the darkly rhythmical Skeleton Jar
, which while it had it's slight detours into poppiness and havens for smiling and sunshine, was overall a very dark album that pushed the envelopes of what was considered radio-friendly pop music. The last song, Piece of Wood, only hinted at dark things to come. However, as one listens to this album, it becomes evident that the dark sound has been ditched for an overall more accessible and, essentially, happier sound. "Daisychains" is an electrified folk ballad that seems to go nowhere fast, and though while enjoyable and relaxing, fails to maintain a crucial interest in the listener past the three minute point. Distortions are added, but the song fails to evolve much. "TJ" and "Sorry" are probably where the album comes closest to fulfilling the Beatles comparison. Both are slow moving and their simplistic nature of guitar-and-voice melody combinations are very reminiscent of The Beatles' earlier period, lighthearted and very fun to listen to, and melodic in the highest order.
Comparisons only take you so far, however. Youth Group continue to surprise the listener with a few jaw-droppingly gorgeous melodies throughout the album that have little to do with other influences outside of the indie genre. "On a String" and "Let Go" are songs that have have their already interesting hooks go into unexpected turns in melody and even shift between moods. Both of the poppy nature, however, it would've been nicer to see them expand their ideas beyond the three minute mark and done something overall more interesting. So it's a relief to see when the band expands it's mind to include several different kinds of styles throughout the album. There's the aforementioned pop rock side ("On a String" and "TJ"), slightly heavier ballad-style pieces ("Under the Underpass"), melancholia pieces that feature little more than a couple guitars and a voice ("Sicily") and even stretching out to feel-good hippy rock with vibes of sixties influence (the longest song and therefore the most jammed-out, "The Destruction of Laurel Canyon"). It is indeed a very fun listen, and it can get a couple points accross, but one starts to wonder if the darker edges that Youth Group had to offer earlier would come back.
Sadly, there is little evidence left of what was back in 2004. The closest we come to their previous sound is the final song, "Forever Young", which while remaining in key with the overall feel of the album, is a rather sad piece that remains uplifting, which is a suitable supplement for the slightly over-whelming pop sound. The opening song, "Catching & Killing", sounds more like a rock 'n' roll song than anything, but Youth Group manage to make even the most generic of all sounding rock music to a more intellegent and intriguing listen, mostly in the chorus where the song takes a different route altogether and becomes a song that resembles a mood more resiliant to the rest of the album, and unfortunately is about as dark as it gets. Yes when fans of Skeleton Jar
listen to this album, it's impossible not to draw comparisons. It's different, no doubt, but one has to get past the fact that the band has moved on to different things altogether. It's different, yes, but still rather enjoyable.
Comparisons, comparisons. Where will this lead us? If you're anything like me, comparisons are a good way to finding out what something sounds like. And since many accusations of Youth Group's sound were thrown around way before this album was released, one can only go into the album not really expecting what it is they're listening to. Poppier. Yes. Happier? Yes. Britpop? Well, maybe not, but the sound is nevertheless a more straightforward version of the lighter side of the Skeleton Jar
album. But through all the comparisons, we have a remarkably solid release that would seem a much better album had it not for their genius debut. But a reccomended album if you at all enjoyed their debut, like poppier alternative rock or just like to have a good time with more upbeat music in general. A very good release, but a dissapointment nevertheless.