What's up with Young People these Days?
What’s immediately striking about this release on first inspection is that it looks (on compact disc, anyway) like a gift from a friend: the cover, despite being printed on glossy paper, has that grainy color-copier feel. And the band’s name and record label are scrawled hurriedly on the shiny aluminum disc. This design makes sense, when you consider that Los Angeles’s Young People originally self-released this album (minus three songs) on CD-R. But the design also provides a neat visualization of the aural qualities of the music: the production is gleaming enough to capture every gritty low-key flourish, each groan of the vocals, each creak and swell of feedback, and each wash of cymbal.
Vocalist/violinist Katie Eastburn sounds like she’d be at home crooning in a country band, chanting in a church choir, or belting out Lesley Gore at home in the shower. Jeff Rosenberg (formerly of atmospheric Tarentel and currently in the noisy destructo-garage band Pink and Brown) and Jarrett Silberman (ex-Get Hustle) create a bed of avant-garde noise (with drums, organ, guitar, and bass) underneath her that at times references the Dirty Three, Low, or Cat Power.
But the closest musical referent for this album might be the Raincoats’ second and third albums—Odyshape and Moving are each potpourris of folk/punk/funk/classical/reggae that scrambled the eggs of people wanting or expecting another punkish “Fairytale in the Supermarket”. Young People haunts the folk/country/drone/lo-fi genres like a benevolent and noisy poltergeist. The album floats from the dirge “The Pier”, with its speaker-vibrating drone, to the funereal New Orleans organ of “Ghosts”, to the subdued squalling and ominous thundering of “Rich Bitch”, to the positively anthemic “Collection”. There’s even a Reverend Gary Davis cover; the band’s “Death Don’t Have No Mercy” sounds like Beat Happening on valium. If you’re patient with this molasses-slow album, you’ll find more and more to submerge yourself in.
For one thing, despite being a morose set of songs, the production is strangely joyful in the ways it emphasizes the sounds of the people making the music. If you close your eyes and listen carefully, you might be able to see the performers. In “Fly Seagull Fly”, for example, you can feel the song through the physical sounds behind the music. Fingers slide across fretboards, picks scrape strings, drumsticks strike cymbals, hands beat tambourines, vocal cords and mouths contract and expand. The song ends on a wisp of feedback and disappears into the ether.
“Collection” isn’t so easy to forget, though. It starts with a strummed guitar and bass and barely-audible rumbling drums. After two measures, Eastburn says/sings: “Collection / In a time of / Indecision. / We can’t harbor / Another orphan”. Her voice cracks on the word “indecision”; it’s hard to avoiding swooning at this point. She continues, “I wish my mind could / Be sharper / Instead of duller” as the drummer accents the final word of each line. The accents continue, faster and more rhythmically, as cymbals splash to emphasize the final long “I” syllables at the beginning and end of the lines: “Forget your might. / Camp out of sight. / There are your kind / Wound up so tight. / And it’s why”. By the time the verse ends, “I wanna do it again! / Again! / Again”, the music is so strangled and wound up that it takes a cymbal crash on each “again”, followed by a nanosecond of silence, to break the tension that’s been building up. The lyrics repeat themselves from the beginning, only with the drums playing a more audible and driving beat. The effect of this suspenseful build-up and release is devastating; it’s like a scene from a Lassie movie where Lassie’s running to save Timmy from a train, grabbing him in her jaws just before both of them get flattened.
In the pictures of Young People on their website, the band looks like they’re playing in a living room with a mess of cables and equipment strewn hither and thither. Rosenberg and Silberman are crouching behind a drum kit and strumming a guitar, while Eastburn bows a violin. An audience looks on with wonder. On this album, the band looks like how they sound: gleamingly messy and intimate.