Review Summary: A cult classic that sounds fresh and inspired today, Colossal Youth is essential indie listening.
In 1980, a fresh-faced Welsh three-piece named ‘Young Marble Giants’ released their debut LP, ‘Colossal Youth’. It was to be their only full-length album, a minimalistic and Spartan thing that defied the noise and the vitriol of the emerging post-punk movement. It has earned since its release three reissues, endorsements from the influential Kurt Cobain and indie legends ‘Belle and Sebastian’ and ‘Galaxie 500’. Yet somehow it remains obscure even to music obsessive’s, a bona fide cult classic whose unassuming nature has perhaps ensured that it stay under the radar. Perhaps it was a little unassuming for its own good; eschewing organic drums for a drum machine and paring post-punk back to it’s very essence was perhaps not a prudent move in an underground music economy where bands such as ‘Wire’, ‘Talking Heads’ and ‘The Clash’ held thrall. The artistic merits of the album, however, are indisputable- it is a very rare album that sounds like little else released before or since, and an even rarer one that sounds quite as wonderful as this does.
If there is one adjective that springs to mind immediately when listening to Colossal Youth, it is endearing: lead singer Alison Stattons unpolished lilt, the delightfully off-kilter drum machine, the prominent bass, the explorations of negative space and quiet guitar melodies; all these conflated ensure charm. The drum machine especially ensures an introspective and low-key atmosphere; would-be garage rock anthems ‘Include me out’ and ‘Brand New Life’ are tempered and pared down into punk conceptions at their most minimal. Elsewhere, the rollicking opener ‘Searching for Mister Right’ casts a spell from the get-go, all propulsive rhythm and ethereal vocals. ‘Salad Days’ is a gorgeous wistful ballad, conjuring images of sunshine and laughter long since past. Singling out specific tracks seems redundant however; this is an album that begs to be listened to as a whole, enthralling and addictive as it is. That said, the sparse arrangement of the album does begin to grate after a while. Moreover, though it may seem unusual to cite the albums consistency as a flaw, the lack of stand-out tracks and the similarity of the pervading atmosphere of each song does mean that the album can become stale after repeated listens.
I alluded earlier that ‘Colossal Youth’ is a post-punk album, but that is not strictly true. Though it gets classified as such, pigeon-holing the album into that genre does a disservice to the originality at work here. It resemblance to post-punk is tenuous, and I believe it is only called such because that at the time there would have been nothing else to call it. It bears more in common with the indie genre of today. Glimmers of it are found in the xx’s self-titled, in the gentle sonic explorations of Beach House, but no-one has made an album quite like this. It stands alone, humbly, entreating the listener not with noise or with gimmickery but with earnestness and a quaint, unsentimental beauty. I can only recommend you let it coax you in. Lose yourself in the beguile and sprawl; this one is a hidden treasure worth searching for.