[15 April 2009]
First place in the self-awareness category goes to Australian quartet Youth Group. In pressers for their newest LP, the band’s music is said to evoke both transcendent ‘80s acts like the Replacements and the Smiths and newer stars in the pop/rock galaxy such as Coldplay, Death Cab for Cutie, Snow Patrol, et al. Give the band credit for knowing where it comes from and what has influenced its sound.
Youth Group has a keen sense of dynamic and crescendo, a knack for stratospheric hooks, and a vocalist, Toby Martin, who recalls the Morrisseys and Dave Gahans of the world, with a vocal style that casts him as the ironic, detached observer and the starry-eyed dreamer all at once. With all these elements in play, the band seems an almost perfect bridge between the gloomier, more darkly melodic pop bands of the ‘80s and the grandly ambitious Brit-rock acts of the past decade. The combination serves Youth Group well: Martin’s sometimes dour delivery can help fend off the accusations of self-importance that plague their contemporaries while the band keeps one foot firmly planted in the doorway of widespread mainstream success.
More importantly, however, is the sense one gets when listening to The Night Is Ours—the sense that Youth Group is a band that knows where it’s going. The group does not seem content to be simply a product of its influences or its scene, but is rather forward-looking, exhibiting a hunger and willingness to push ahead.
From the album’s start, Martin and his bandmates (drummer Danny Allen, guitarist Cameron Emerson-Elliott, and bassist Patrick Matthews) present their intentions to captivate the listener and wrap them up in a swirling sea of sound. The record’s opener, “Good Time”, opens with expectant, almost foreboding ambient noise and the hypnotic call of Martin’s voice. The arrangement contracts and expands, Martin plaintively asking “Will this feeling go on forever?” before track one fades into track two, “One for Another,” a great mid-tempo, glassy-eyed ‘80s rocker.
“One for Another” builds on the yearning feel of its predecessor, bringing a sense of peace and contentment in the song’s final minute; the payoff comes in the form of a beautiful, Beatle-esque, horn-driven outro. Other strong tracks that show up early include the shimmering synth-rock of “Two Sides” and “Dying at Your Own Party”, arguably the album’s highlight. The latter song is a tale of survival in the midst of desperation as Martin sings “Oh darling, send out the search party / Send the boat back for me, this is not how it ends” in his best Morrissey-like delivery. The song’s gradually hopeful build mirrors the tone of Martin’s rhymes.
On an initial listen, it seems the album is a bit frontloaded with its best songs. And while it’s true the album could be more consistently solid from track one to track ten (the occasional subpar moment like the tune “Friedrichstrasse” holds the album back), repeated exposure reveals several gems in the album’s latter half, most notably the piano-led “Babies in Your Dreams” and album closer “What Is a Life?”.
The Night Is Ours is a portrait of a band on the verge of something really special. The night doesn’t quite belong to Youth Group, not just yet. But, with such a solid grip on what’s shaped them and what they want to shape moving forward, the band may soon take possession of many hearts and minds.