Review Summary: Young Galaxy shape shift into a creature of previously unknown confidence and subtle electro-pop beauty.
Confidence is an important trait for any band. It’s all well and good finding a formula that gathers a few fans then simply rinsing and repeating, but as history can dictate, it’s often bands that have ambitions beyond the safe constraints of previous success that garner the most acclaim, critically, commercially or otherwise. In the case of 'Shapeshifting' (the Canadian trios 3rd LP), Young Galaxy seem to have captured an impressive blend of accessibility and artistic merit; producing music that has sharp pop concessions whilst also remaining somewhat alternative.
There’s an air of confidence that permeates throughout the album, as evidenced by tracks like 'For Dear Life', that doesn't rush to its biggest vocal hook like most three and a half minute pop songs would. It instead spends 2/3rds of its runtime swaying with a cool, hypnotic breeze, moving at its own pace before McCandless belts out the most memorable line on the track, "I will run" in all her warm, echoed glory; only for it to end moments later. It’s because of this, that the album benefits from repeated listens, as its casual sophistication may not immediately grip as tightly as other blunt pop songs, instead revealing the charm of its subtleties and gentle melodies over time.
'Shapeshifting' is a departure from the bands earlier releases, featuring a softer and more electro-pop sound than before. Young Galaxy decided to mix things up and attempted to create sounds on a more ambitious scale than heard on previous efforts. To cut a long story short, their experimenting is an irrefutable success. Its successful in the sense that it manages to have catchy keyboard lines (like on 'B' and 'We Have Everything') without ever being annoying. Because the melodies bounce gently here and there, fading away at times, swept away by dreamy synths and simplistic, hushed guitar riffs, it never becomes stale or repetitive. 'Shapeshifting' is an intelligent outing, knowing when to throw in gorgeous, melancholic tracks such as 'Blown Minded' after should-be pop hits like 'The Angels Are Surely Weeping' to pace itself. It cleverness is further emphasised by subtle poetic lyrics like on the title track ("If I could be lover or mother; Spheres and charms and aching arms; Holding and unfolding"), as opposed to simple statements of emotion that lay themselves bare.
Perhaps the best summation of what the trio did on this record comes from songwriter and guitarist, Stephen Ramsay, who explained: "Instead of picking up a guitar and finding the most brilliant melody we could, we tried to erase the shape of the songs.". During the process of "erasing the shape of the songs" the band seemed to have found themselves, and as a listener you get the feeling that ideas gelled and band relations were high. Due to this, 'Shapeshifting' proves to be a relaxing experience, as it flows without tension - despite Ramsay’s vocal turns being massively outweighed in number by those of McCandless'; it feels unconcerned and natural, unlike many bands that would surely squabble to feature an equal number of vocal turns from both singers, Young Galaxy just let the right man (or woman, in the case of most tracks) take the reins where it seemed appropriate.
'Shapeshifting' is a thoroughly superb release, featuring a set of hypnotic, electro-pop tunes that flow at their own pace; cool and confident and unconcerned with massive, obvious riffs and lyrics. It sways in a breeze of sophistication, letting its catchiness settle in over repeated listens and genuinely gets better each time you press play. A huge leap forward for the band, 'Shapeshifting' is the trios best outing so far and comes highly recommended to those looking for a slice of silky, airy electro-pop brilliance.