Review Summary: Far from paralyzed, even if the whole is less than the sum of its parts.
Has there ever been a more mismatched band and record label combination than Young the Giant’s self-titled LP being released by Roadrunner Records? Here we had a young group of Californian indie-rockers rubbing shoulders with metal behemoths such as Opeth and Slipknot. Maybe it was this weird amalgam of genres – along with the constant promotion of the quintet’s multicultural backgrounds – which heightened anticipation for the record to the point of inevitable disappointment. While many pundits recognized the talent that the band possessed, they were also critical of the derivative & indistinct nature of their sound – Pitchfork being particularly scathing awarding the album a 2.7 rating out of 10. Clearly, some matters needed addressing; the first of which would be their record label. So, for follow-up album ‘Mind Over Matter’, Young the Giant have switched over to, umm, Fueled By Ramen!
Thankfully, the likes of Cobra Starship and Panic! At the Disco need not worry about their toes being stepped on, with the band once known as The Jakes continuing to hone their accessible indie-rock style. While the muscular rhythm section of Payam Doostzadeh and Francois Comtois continue to make otherwise forgettable tunes well worth a listen, Young the Giant have downplayed the dual guitar interplay of their music for a somewhat more synth, keys & strings driven sound. Wisely guided by producer Justin Meldal-Johnsen (M83, Neon Trees, Crystal Fighters), more ambience is instilled into the groups music, allowing the focus to marginally shift towards the collective’s song-writing, as well as the versatile vocal range of Sameer Gadhia. While a natural evolution, cynics could once more make a case that this is simply following trends and not distinguishing Young the Giant from the indie-rock pack.
As with the self-titled release, ‘Mind Over Matter’ front-loads its more accessible tunes. Lead single ‘It’s About Time’ is a gritty rocker which has an interesting aggressive edge, even if it lacks the hooks of its predecessor’s counterpart ‘My Body’. The catchier keys-driven 2nd single ‘Crystallized’ immediately follows, sounding like a composite of all four LPs by The Killers rolled into one song! Yet, it is the strings-heavy title track which sees the band at their most assured, melding musical components old and new, while Gadhia belts out his vocals convincingly. Unfortunately, the album’s latter half is a little more hit and miss, with everything being competent enough in isolation, but arguably unengaging when amassed together. Young the Giant too often get themselves stuck in a mid-tempo rut that makes the LP feel even longer than its 53 minute duration, with only the affecting ‘Camera’ and funky ‘Eros’ standing out.
One area of advancement shown here is thematical focus and cohesion, since there are constant – but not overbearing – references to paralysis and succumbing to pressure. This is again best exemplified on the title track, where Gadhia tellingly sings “And if the world don’t break, I’ll be shaking it, 'cause I’m a young man after all. And when the seasons change, will you stand by me, 'cause I’m a young man built to fall”. In comparison to the 2nd full-length releases of similar – and superior – bands, ‘Mind Over Matter’ isn’t as large an evolution as Foals’ ‘Total Life Forever’, nor as captivatingly dynamic as Local Natives’ 'Hummingbird’. It’s enjoyable though, and in a strange sense its replay value is strong, since listeners are fully able to appreciate the band’s individual components on subsequent listens. Ultimately, however, Young the Giant are still a work in progress, with the whole still being less than the sum of the quintet’s parts.
Recommended Tracks: Mind Over Matter, Eros, It's About Time & Crystallized.