As half of the late ‘90s power pop band Wolfie, Joe and Amanda Ziemba proved they had the elements of the pop song down pat. They fell in love, got married, the band broke up, and the Like Young began: the Ziembas as a duo, with Joe’s punk tendencies and Amanda’s brilliantly sugar-sweet singing lingering in the soil, kicked off yet another period of growth.
When we last left the Ziembas, they had thrown their day jobs to the wind and set off on tour in support of So Serious, the band’s second and by far most confident and promising record. Then they returned from tour, having lived on the road for months and having sold their house, to realize—once again—that the band’s income wasn’t cutting it. This is all to say that a major point of interest in the Like Young’s career is focus and refocus, and each successive effort reflects this remarkably.
Last Secrets marks a fancy new step for the Like Young. You can hear it immediately in the album’s intro, “The Hell with This Whole Affair”, a drowsy piano/synth moment that ushers straight into the Pixies-esque crunch of “For Money or Love”. There is a thickness here, a toughness that’s never been present before. It’s more than Pixies, though. In fact, what Last Secrets is not is perhaps more profound: it’s not garage rock, all tinny guitars and stripped down. It’s not sweet young married people music. It’s not boring or played out at all.
What it is: full sounding, with punches. New Wave darkness in “Obviously Desperate”, the tingle of a note repeated and lingering, backed by silence, the haunting synth outro. “Some Closure” and “Hard Stress, Soft Skin” as the marriage of this new toughness and the Like Young’s penchant for pop perfection. And the expressive doubt pinned against sharp guitars in “Almost Said Yes” when Joe barks, “Just let your ghosts go for me”, is landmark. All this while, letting the ghosts go seems to be exactly what the Like Young have been trying to do: ridding themselves of the ghosts of failure, the ghosts of optimism, ghosts of doubt.
In the place of these ghosts, the Like Young churns a whole new reality and a whole new optimism. After slight derailment and strong introspection, the band is stronger than ever—tough, though not as biting; a stable sound and that final concession that this band is the only thing the Ziembas will allow themselves to do, not for lack of talent but, rather contrarily, for hugeness of heart.
And all of this without mention of the final track, a true crescendo marker called “Inner Fantasies”, a song whose last lines are: “There’s no use in waiting / There’s no catch to fantasy / Now, I want this to stretch out / Now, I’m not about to cave / I’m ready too…”
It is a song whose last line, haunted and drawn-out by ellipsis, “I’m ready too…”, repeats over drone and distortion, Joe’s voice becoming calm and ethereal as it blends into the noise. It is a song where meaning can be drawn from its open-endedness, the promise of something huge to come. None of this is to discount the accomplishments of Last Secrets, however. In fact, each record the Like Young makes feels closer to the launching pad in relation to the inevitably profound arc that will be Joe and Amanda Ziemba’s career when all’s said and done. Then, people will look back on Last Secrets and see a sort of rebirth.