Young Man's second release in a three-part series about the fleeting nature of youth and transition into adulthood is nothing short of spectacular.
Much like the recently released Prophet by Ramona Falls, Vol. 1 is Young Man's second full-length and first to feature a full band. Another similarity? Both records are unbelievably good, jaw-dropping in their structure, creativity and overall artistry. Making Vol. 1 particularly impressive, though, is that this is only the second full-length record that frontman Colin Caulfield has released. From start to finish, Vol. 1 is one of the most exhilarating, inventive releases that 2012 has seen. How these songs are so fully-formed, immaculately produced and perfectly realized is anyone's guess but it definitely cements Young Man's place as an artist to watch.
Vol. 1 only has nine tracks but every single one is injected with more creativity than a lot of artists can manage with an entire album. "Heading" is the song that gets Vol. 1 off the ground, starting with a bouncing R&B-style bass line before evolving into something that sounds entirely new and on the verge of breaking new ground. It's exciting to hear something this unique, especially in a pop-style setting, coming from a band that's still young enough to be finding their footing. When "Heading" ends, it does so by transitioning seamlessly into ambient drones that lead effectively into "Thoughts".
"Thoughts" is where Caulfield's enviable lyrical (and vocal) abilities manage to take the focal point. Starting in a lush dream-pop haze and switching into an acoustic-guitar and vocals arrangement, the song starts out tantalizingly enough. When Caulfield's falsetto kicks in, it's enough to stop a person dead in their tracks. "Thoughts" eventually finds its way back to the dream-pop territory it began with, but as that progresses, it manages to get increasingly heavier and more sinister. Fuzzed out bass, downstroked guitars, and bass/cymbal crashes drive the song home in remarkably powerful fashion, reaching peaks worthy of Explosions in the Sky.
The ensuing track, "By and By" is where Young Man really gets to show themselves, offering up a song that's equal parts R&B, powerpop, folk and rock 'n' roll. That genre fusion, with occasional dashes of psychedelia, punk and noise, is the sound that drives Young Man. It's never been presented in the same fashion before. The only thing that's come remotely close to sounding like this record in terms of structure, arrangement and genre-meshing is Bon Iver's current live show, which is something I realized while listening to the near-cathartic crashes in "Do". It's high praise, to be sure, but it's incredibly deserved. It's also worth noting that Vol. 1 is much more accessible and has a far greater pop sheen than Bon Iver.
"Fate" is a jumpy track that barrels along, overflowing with catchy guitar lines and melodies. It's another very strong indicator of Young Man's collective abilities and talent. The song itself is an absolute joy to listen to and is sure to get toes tapping in nearly any setting it's played. There's a stunning breakdown mid-song that leads into one of the album's most riveting (and heaviest) moments. It's pure exhilaration. "Wasted" calms things down again and teeters along until it is cut apart in the middle by a vicious feedback solo. It's one of Vol. 1's shortest and least memorable tracks.
Vol. 1 closes with a stunning trio of tracks in "21", "Wandering" and "Directions". The standout of the three is the first, which has Young Man pulling out nearly all of their stops and catering to their most extreme strengths, which makes it one of the best songs you're likely to hear this year. It runs over seven minutes, but the latter half is so unbelievably good, it feels like three. It's in that small stretch where Young Man really get to flex their muscles and show some teeth. The result is breathtaking. "21" is so towering and so monumental that the short but beutiful "Wandering" feels like its epilogue. That pairing sets up the final track to be a probable disappointment, which is expertly avoided. While "Wandering" isn't as strong as "21", it comes close enough and carries Vol. 1 to an intensely satisfying end.
If Vol. 1 isn't being talked about around the end of the year, I'll be surprised. This is original music that has essentially created its own niche and perfected it. Young Man's definitely worth keeping both eyes on and this record is definitely worth buying. A truly excellent release.