Along with the Who and the Moody Blues, the original Byrds probably represent the primary precursor to just about every band I’ve ever fallen for. This jangly genealogy is easy to trace, from Big Star and the Raspberries, up past Let’s Active and R.E.M. in the early 1980s, to Blake Babies and beyond. So please indulge an unrepentant jangle-pop fan for swooning at the first five seconds of Ben Cook’s latest Young Guv release, GUV III, and remaining joyously prone for the next 30 minutes.
“Return to Form” is a dreadful cliché, but one that nonetheless fits the bill in Young Guv’s case. Several talented acts (including Bibio, Todd Fancey, and Panic Division) have recently taken disappointing detours into discofied or electronic music. It’s fine as far as artistry goes but a waste of effort when your forte lies elsewhere. Young Guv’s 2015 debut Ripe 4 Luv was an invigorating blast of electrified sweetness, starring a ringing harmonic miracle titled “Living the Dream” that woulda coulda shoulda been a song of the year. The half-decade since has seen a series of non-disastrous but still discouraging missteps, punctuated by an occasional short-lived rebound. So when Cook opens GUV III with a kaleidoscopic Rundgren riff like “I Couldn’t Leave You If I Tried”, this reviewer can’t help shouting HALLELUJAH! to the high heavens.
Some music fans worship originality above all else, while others believe chocolate-fudge sundaes have stood the test of time for a reason. And to be perfectly honest, there’s nothing groundbreaking here. But Cook’s ear for catchy hooks is just so darn refreshing, especially because he understands the virtue of stopping short before over-caffeinated “That Thing You Do” fatigue sets in. Like Eric Carmen of the Raspberries, Young Guv seemingly dwells inside a perpetual high-school basement party – pining for adolescent love with songs like “Only Wanna See U Tonight” and “She Don’t Cry For Anyone”, the latter of whose layered guitars would make David Crosby proud. And is that a tambourine (gulp!) bracing the fantastic standalone melody in “But I Ain’t Got U”? Hey, it worked for the Partridge Family!
Just about every song on GUV III is a candied huckleberry. Other highlights include the echoed 12-string guitars on “Take Up All My Time” and the intoxicating back-to-front finger-plucking of “Same Old Fool”. At barely two minutes’ length, “It’s Only Dancin” chugs along like an old Diesel hit. Then Cook roughens things up with the next-to-last track, “Scam Likely”, which mightn’t have clicked in the center of things but works wonderfully at the finish.
Speaking of endings… If Cook commits one glaring error on GUV III, it’s skidding to a halt with the soft 1950s-style ballad “April of My Life”. When an artist slots a lone ballad on a jangly rock record, it better be of “Earth Angel” quality – which, unfortunately, “April” is not. Like Pink Floyd’s “Money”, the result is jarring to the ear and doesn’t mesh with the rest of the album. Also, compared to other sparkling tracks, “Lo Lo Lonely’s” by-the-book chord progression could have benefited from some more cowbell. But overall, GUV III is possessed of irresistible rockin’ energy: a modern sugar-rush of layered harmonies and Byrdsian guitar, all in service of that painful high-school crush you never saw again.
Audiophile bonus: The record is also available in high-resolution 24bit/44.1kHz format on Bandcamp.com.