When a band forms, one of the first problems facing its members is what to call themselves. If you are a band with a single, primary singer/songwriter, do you do something as ostentatious as name your band after that person (i.e., the Dave Matthews Band)? Or do you choose something purely innocuous, something that on its own means little (i.e., Curve)? In the case of Young and Sexy, you do neither, choosing a name that can evoke many things to many people. On the one hand, it could have been the name of the newest graduates of Popstars, and on the other, the slapstick-y joke of some aging, unfunny country duo.
Luckily, Young and Sexy are neither. Though with a name like this, you have to back it up somehow. On their debut album Stand Up for Your Mother, they do just that, in their own way. Yes, the members of the band are all young 20-somethings, and sexy is a relative term. The music they play could certainly be considered sexy, in the way that beautiful, intricate pop music is sexy. Sexy in a Magnetic Fields kind of way. In fact, there is more than passing resemblance between the two groups. Primary singer/songwriter Paul Hixon Pittman may not sound like the Stephin Merritt, but he certainly crafts his pop songs in a similar way. From instrumentation (many of their songs are either acoustic guitar or piano driven), to song structure, this could be a companion piece to 69 Love Songs. Young and Sexy also incorporate two lead vocalists, the other being Lucy Brain, whose voice is strikingly similar to the Fields’ Claudia Gonson.
Many of the songs on Stand Up for Your Mother start simply and build up through the choruses and verses to a crescendo of layered vocals and sound. The middle songs “Better” and “Scott” are both examples of this building, and also display the extremes of mood of the songs on the record. “Better” starts out with a simple acoustic guitar riff over piano, with each singer trading off chorus and verse. By the time they get to the middle of the song, the previously quiet chorus of “I’ve got a feeling / Things are going to get better / I’ve got a feeling / Things are going to improve” becomes a giant wall of vocal harmonies, crashing drums and electric guitar. Over the course of the song, the singers rejoice in the words, finally believing them by the end.
The next song brings it all crashing back to earth. “Scott” is almost a dirge, from its slow tempo, delicate piano and weary voices of Paul Hixon Pittman and Lucy Brain. There is some gorgeous guitar work, reminiscent of the brooding music from Twin Peaks, adding to the melancholy of the words. “Carry me / Out of this world I don’t belong / I’m not sure what it’s all about” is simple enough, but is filled with sadness of someone unable to bear seeing their ex-lover with anyone else. Things do not always get better.
The band (which also includes Ted Marcel Bois/keyboards and guitar, Andre J. Lagace/bass and guitar, and Ron “Frankie” Teardrops/drums) are consistently tight and in tune with the nuances of this kind of music. Using traditional instruments, including the very front and center piano and acoustic guitars, compliment the fine voices of both singers. Incorporating rock, pop, lounge, with the occasional country touch, the album is full of contrasting styles ably pulled together by this talented group.
Vancouver’s Mint Records has become a tastemaker for indie pop over the last few years, most notably with the release of the New Pornographers’ Mass Romantic. The production team of John Collins and Dave Carswell also produced Stand Up for Your Mother, at their Vancouver based JC/DC studio. The record has the same lush, warm sound, and is full of joyous songs with catchy hooks, but trades in power pop chords for classic pop melodies. Whether Young and Sexy will enjoy the same degree of success of their label mates depends on too many factors to list here. Their music may not be as commercial, but it would definitely make Stephin Merritt smile.