Review Summary: Isolation woes.
A lot of what is experienced in life is never truly appreciated during its existing presence. It’s a common conundrum when faced with lifestyles that emphasize profit over mental health and constant motion over respite. It teaches people to methodically package problems away until one’s head resembles a cluttered attic: full to the brim with baggage, yet you haven’t got a clue how it all got there. Such a process leads to a concentration on basic survival, and in doing so, that which maybe matters more than is given credit for receives less attention until it evaporates in the passage of time. I’m not sure if this is something that is remotely applicable to Youth Novel, nor is it a commentary on the members themselves or their respective fanbase. What can be said, however, is that these thoughts came about because
of Youth Novel. For whatever reason, I am typing away to describe a collective that, in a manner no different from a forgotten friend or disappeared confidant, has faded from consciousness. A self-titled effort, released posthumously during a quarantine push to finalize past works, is the lasting testament.
The startling brevity of an artist is what captivates me the most, as well as the eternal game of “what if?” that can be bounced about. Why exactly Youth Novel drifted apart is likely a private conversation that is none of my business to know and nor should it ever be, instead a kept secret between musical comrades. However, what if they didn’t break up? This review would perhaps shift from an obituary to an advocation for a new underground champion in the screamo scene—a particular scene always searching for a new crew to rally behind. What if this was the mass-advertised debut of an established act, not its first and final breath? The Midwestern gents could’ve been uttered in the same sentences as Nuvolascura, embodying the up-and-coming sets that have prospered in the Age of Bandcamp (trademark pending). At the risk of overburdening the proverbial attic, the questioning phase can cease here, and the actual purpose of this piece can begin: evaluating an album, not an inquiry. Behind all the hypotheticals theories bred from existentialism, there is the absolute truth of Youth Novel’s introductory disc. Fierce yet fleeting, Youth Novel
, despite personifying a gasp from the departed, resonates as something much stronger.
What the Michigan gang immediately deserve credit for is the evolution they executed behind closed doors. When initially encountered in 2014, Youth Novel were no different from a given genre contemporary vying to carve out space in the emo audience, struggling to discover a voice that could rise above the crowd. Production values were, perhaps predictably so, lacking. General songwriting missed the necessary beats that made screamo attractive; the payoffs were either absent or failed to possess the sort of strength that lent itself to memorability. The small success that could be detected—an emphasis on atmosphere that assisted in establishing a relatable mood—has been thoroughly augmented in the collective’s transition to their eponymous output. Rather than engaging in more obvious crescendos, the band opted to shift their focus from the post-rock structures they previously demonstrated, endeavoring to insert such tactics in a more subtle manner. Out of this transformation emerges a sound familiar to most aficionados, where chaos is employed liberally in the form of razor-edged, dissonant guitars, a static-laden mix, thunderous drums, and indecipherable vocals that aim to portray anguish at its absolute. Those desiring something extraordinary that truly deviates from the norm have understandably determined Youth Novel to be unworthy of their time at this juncture; the frenetic, accelerated exploits of screamo bands are well detailed, after all, and it’s far too common for nascent bands to concentrate on speed over all else. As much bedlam as Youth Novel spawn, their control over how a number progresses is admirable, lending itself to entries that balance frenzied action with thrilling culminations. Dividing time between these forays and more patient, atmospheric ventures secures the emotional payoff, injecting melody to accentuate the sorrow as imposing strings aspire for pinnacles.
At a glance, the contents of Youth Novel
aren’t designed for individual recollection. Whereas the band’s EP created clear separation between songs, the lines are deconstructed on their full length; the tracks, all plainly identified by Roman numerals, seamlessly flow into one another, the momentum omnipresent between the various explorations of pandemonium. Stood in a row, “XI” to “XV” encapsulate a sort of suite. After polished strumming introduces the record, all pretense of calm is promptly demolished by raging screams and a runaway drumkit, its destructive output bleeding into a towering wall of violent instrumentation. Not sacrificing a second, proceedings immediately plunge into an unexpected breakdown from “XII,” a foreboding aesthetic invading the LP as the tempo bends from fury to gradual brutality. Following in the succeeding tunes are harrowing screams intermingling with distant yells, scratchy melodies, a growling bass, and only hints of salvation in stray thrumming that evokes a more serene time. Riding along these numbers reveals numerous highlights that speak to the gifts imbued in all included adventures despite their simple appearances. Held constant is the unbending agony placed at the heart of the effort as though the emotions of the members were being unceremoniously peeled away. It can be felt in the ceaseless aggression of “XIV,” its miniscule runtime akin to a train racing to collide with someone stranded on the rails. At its peak, it is felt in the mammoth conclusion of “XV,” where a steady mind is but a forgotten dream cast off by galloping, discordant guitars and aching voices desperate for a conclusion. Hope is seen in a bridge that scales back the pain, the bass briefly shining to offer a potential escape before that which haunts the soul returns. The tension increases to threatening levels, strings and percussion alike mere passengers on a vehicle of unbridled torment that’s propelled forward, the volume increasing as screams are lost in the haze. It is not only the mark of a beautifully constructed monument to screamo, but a crescendo built into the very start of the album. Every tune holds its ground, making the overall experience incredibly smooth and impactful per its individual merits.
The emotional gamut sprinted through to initiate a listener to Youth Novel’s adjusted style perfectly illustrates how the compositional talents of the Michigan crew improved, but the band consciously restrains themselves from unveiling the entire act. Enduring the trek from “XI” to “XV” is a rollercoaster deserving of praise in the modern context of the musical category it belongs to, and it’s thankfully not the entire tale spun during Youth Novel
’s runtime. Surprises continue to come, namely in the manner through which different sections are arranged, cautiously avoiding the flaw of relying heavily on dexterity alone. Immediately branching off of the insanity of “XV” is the equally fierce “XVI,” a piercing melody and dynamic drumming leading the charge, faultlessly executing black metal flurries as the bass maneuvers underneath. The cacophony recedes, segueing into fleeting restraint as the group regains their footing, resurrecting the song with patient strumming. In the blink of an eye, a thrilling riff launches out of what was once unassuming, barreling onwards at the behest of the percussion’s heightening pace. Catching the audience off-guard lends itself to an effective conclusion that combines all possible songwriting perks of the group into a meteor strike. Harmonizing with this viciousness is the contradictory ambiance of “XVII” –the sole instance on the LP where not a voice is heard, finally relieving the listener of that which stalks them throughout the rest of their day. Instead, a patient climax is performed, the rocky production adding an edge to the melodic timbers that crawl out of the darkness. It exhibits an ideal counter to all that preceded it, its melancholic aura preparing travelers for the inevitable plunge into sorrow’s waters while simultaneously saving them from unending torment. No matter the span, Youth Novel await with manic instrumentation, dissonance aplenty, and the genre’s trademarked shrieks. Though managing several tempo shifts and rapid transitions, every moment comes naturally, never forced in the writing process for the sake of shock value.
Of the questions that persist upon completing Youth Novel
, I’m left wondering: What if this wasn’t worth making? The aggression, the anguish, the excavated confines of the human condition—every violent chord struck and every word belted out as if one’s last resonate with these sensations. Even without the veracity of lyrics, the distress permeating the disc is unavoidable to acknowledge, spiking up in the whirlwind of “XX” and its addicting harmonies or the nearly 7-minute finale “XXI,” the uneasy ebb and flow of the track an ideal microcosm for the explosive energy of the record it calls home. It’s the selfsame nervousness that persists in my writing, blurring the adjectives that describe the music and that stealthily exercise to outline my own life, staring into a cluttered attic without a clue about how it got to be so encumbered by baggage. This is, and always will be, the power that drives a given album that leans into a fraction of emo inspirations: it has the potential to connect unlike any other classification, rampaging about as if one’s bottled-up thoughts were finally permitted to unravel. The entire premise of the genre hinges on a listener accepting the ensuing emotional gauntlet and sympathizing with the content. When buttressed by commendable musicianship on all fronts, each member contributing greatly to fantastic arrangements, it cannot be understated how impressive and relatable Youth Novel
can be. There’s certainly no evasion from the persistent dilemma of the product not being completely of original stature, having borrowed a fair bit of motifs and standing on the shoulders of giants. Abiding by such a train of thought unfairly paints the Midwestern outfit as a mere copycat. As it stands, there are a few further absolute truths to observe: Youth Novel, though now defunct, were more than mimics, and they advanced their craft towards mastery with engaging arrangements buoyed by tangible trauma. Be it for unrestricted headbanging or nights alone attempting to free up space in a mental storage room, Youth Novel are a damn good comfort to turn to.