Youngblood Hawke's first full length shows promise -- uneven in parts, but a sign of [possibly] good things to come.
Youngblood Hawke's Wake Up takes the four cuts from their debut EP and adds eight more for a mostly satisfying full-length. They create colorful, elastic indie electro-pop and, most of the time, it measures up.
Opener "Rootless" is a sprightly track, peppered with early '80s U2-style echoing guitars, nestled atop an insistent, pulsating groove that pushes the envelope of feeling cluttered, but never actually gets to that extreme, resulting in a song that pulls off a Goldilocks effect -- just right. "We Come Running" keeps the vibe of this album going nicely with a very wild-young thing approach coloring the lyrics. "Dreams" is the first moment the proceedings slow down a bit and yet the epic swoop is still there on the elastic, yell-it-to-the-rafters delivery in lines like "We've been waiting on these dreams to feel real for so long." The harmonies and joyful, effervescent feel make it one of this album's crown jewels.
The style-studious feel permeating this album points out how it is both a great beginning and a bit derivative. The band members have clearly done their homework, and often sound more accomplished than a band this early into their career ought to. Most of the time the "homework" results in pleasant variations on the themes they clearly know and love. Occasionally it sounds less like an homage and more like outright cribbing in order to inject a particular feeling into a song. For example, "Stars (Hold on)" opens up with string swells and a beat that feels like a leftover from Viva La Vida era Coldplay. This doesn't make it a bad song necessarily, just not as original-sounding as it could have been. On the flip side, this approach sometimes works to their favor. "Live and Die" is a slow-moving, near-breakbeat anthem that manages to evoke other styles without sounding like a copy. The hat trick here is fusing breakbeat and electro with pop and actually having it actually sound good. Not an easy thing to pull off and have it sound worthwhile. "Sleepless Streets" pulls a surprise one-two, starting out almost sounding like raw, early Dave Matthews Band, then folding into an electro-reggae groove -- building into a track that ends in a similarly almost-cluttered-yet just right instrumental blend.
The disc closes out with flair with an opening lyric that neatly brings the "wild and free" theme of the whole disc full circle: "I wrote a letter to my generation just to say / you don't get a second chance to make the same mistakes / that break our bones." Plenty of bands have done the "Young, restless, wild and looking to live life to the fullest with eyes wide open" trope. Youngblood Hawke do it with wide-eyed, hungry-young artist flair, to be certain. They have some rough edges to smooth out, but they have a very promising start here (this writer was fortunate enough to see them as an opening act for Keane in January 2013, and the same energy was manifest in their performance.) If further albums show progression and evolution into a style that they make more uniquely theirs, the only way to go from here is up.