As Canadian indie bands like The New Pornographers, The Arcade Fire, Metric, Broken Social Scene, and Stars have recently enjoyed commercial success in their home country and abroad after years of hard work, the same can’t be said for Vancouver’s Young and Sexy, who have been left coughing in the dust of their more famous peers, despite putting out some of the best Canadian pop music this decade. Even through their first two albums were very well-received (2002’s Stand Up For Your Mother and 2003’s Life Through One Speaker), for all the praise heaped upon them by critics, it’s never translated into strong album sales for the band. In Canada, where most of the attention is focused on scenesters in Toronto and Montreal, it’s tougher to get noticed when you’re based three thousand miles away on the West Coast (The New Pornographers, Hot Hot Heat, and Black Mountain are among the few who have managed to do so), and in Young and Sexy’s case, it certainly doesn’t help when it takes so long to put out album number three. So vibrant has the Canadian indie scene been over the last couple years, that it’s easy to see how Young and Sexy could get lost in the shuffle, but hearing their new disc, it doesn’t take long before your memory is jogged, the realization of I forgot how good this band is! hits, and you’re sifting through your old CDs in search of their other albums.
Nearly three years ago, Life Through One Speaker was a pretty little album, one that combined gentle (dare I say, twee) indie pop laced with plenty of homages to early 70s AM radio singles, with heavy emphasis on the sunny West Coast vibe from that era, exemplified by shamelessly wide-eyed fare as “Oh My Love”, “Herculean Bellboy”, and “More Than I Can Say”, all led by the winsome male-female vocal interplay of Paul Pittman and Lucy Brain. Now, with the band lineup completely overhauled (Andre Legace switching from bass to guitar, Brent MacDonald becoming the new bassist and Lucy’s brother Alex now taking care of the drumming), Panic When You Find It has Young and Sexy sounding just as lushly melodic, but with a tinge of darkness this time around, songs more downbeat than upbeat, the difference between the new album and its predecessor like that between summer and autumn. The days get shorter, the shadows get longer, and there’s more of a bite in the air.
Opening track “Your Enemy’s Asleep” encapsulates the melancholy that pervades the new album, as Pittman sings from a soldier’s point of view, not about senseless war but of the pain closer to one’s heart, that of being torn away from loved ones for so long (“Your lips are bruised/With a soldier’s last caress”), as the song gently careens from a dirge-like pace to gentle waves of effects-laden guitars. The slow, nocturnal vibe of “Without Your Love” is enhanced beautifully by Brain’s plaintive, torch-like singing, while the piano-driven “5/4”, with its tremolo guitar, heads more towards Richard Hawley territory, displaying hints of 50s pop, not to mention some lovely vocal harmonies reminiscent of the band’s old stand-by, Belle and Sebastian. The gorgeous “Trespass on a Thought” is the most ambitious song on the record, and arguably the best of the lot, as the band display the same kind of songwriting ingenuity they so expertly showed on “Oh My Love”, this time sounding less rose-tinted indie rock, and slightly more world-weary orchestral pop.
Panic When You Find It is not without more effervescent fare, as the boy-girl harmonies “The Curious Organ” brings to mind that old Mamas and Papas cliché, and “Conventional Lullabies” sound directly inspired by fellow Vancouverite Carl Newman, but for the most part, the album is at its best when wallowing in its own misery. While Stars has nailed the male-female indie pop sound in recent years, the songwriting prowess of Young and Sexy cannot be ignored. If they can maintain some stability in the band, and perhaps get a lucky break or two, they just might be as big as their Montreal counterparts. For now, though, they’ll have to make do with being one of their country’s best-kept musical secrets.