Home of the Strange won't convert any naysayers of Young the Giant's straight-and-narrow take on alternative rock, but it underscores what has emboldened their fanbase for so long
With three studio albums behind them, Young the Giant have tightened every bolt, sealed every crack, and smoothed over every crease in their sound: a hyper-polished amalgam of lush stadium-ready anthemics and melancholic indie rock that fits squarely under the amorphous "modern rock" rubric. While distinctive, a guitar-veined wallop of muscle, heartache, and a strain of desperation just shy of all-out recklessness, this sound isn't that far removed from what other Coldplay-citing rock outfits have landed upon. The Temper Trap, Kodaline, Holy Fire-era Foals, Tourist History-era Two Door Cinema Club -- all possess a signature aesthetic that leans on the same arithmetical complex of vesuvian snare spurts, carefully modulated feedback, and direct, post-adolescent poetry; Young the Giant, for better and worse, possess this aesthetic as well, the pulverizing vocal talent of frontman Sameer Gadhia standing as their primary, if not only, sonic differentiator.
Lyrically, though, Gadhia and company have fashioned a unique kind of low-brow pop/rock existentialism, one that suffuses Home of the Strange from its Kafka-inspired opener ("Amerika") to its final post-chorus firestorm. Just like the small town masochists ("My Body") and late-to-the-train romantics ("Mind Over Matter") from the previous two Giant LPs, the characters that populate the record all stave off the same anxieties, chase the same visions. Without variation, they long for better halves that they don't have and fight against fits of despair; they search for meaning -- meaning in love, in loss, in lips that foreshadow both -- throughout a world of asphyxiated hope and godless uncertainty. Indeed, across these eleven tracks, there's a sense of Sisyphean resilience that might have even given Camus a grin.
"The child in me is elsewhere", Gadhia sings in the aptly-named "Elsewhere", an album standout that charges the band's default high-voltage rock traditionalism with a danceable bassline that recalls The Arctic Monkeys' genre-bending work in AM. It's a chorus that encapsulates what assails most of Gadhia's protagonists: an unyielding belief that the key to personal contentment is far off, unattainable, elsewhere. "Repeat", one of the best melodic moments here, finds Gadhia looking for this key throughout forests, tributaries, mountainscapes, and fields of snow stretching out toward infinity. Propulsive and brazenly confrontational, "Home of the Strange" spits on the sanctity of "America the Beautiful", punctuating the record with a singalong rebuke of a country that teases wealth, status, and fame but gives nothing, a country with loaded pockets but bare palms.
Of all the seekers, drifters, and stranded souls that inundate the band's oeuvre, the character who crawls closest to their bloodstream resides in a song from their 2011 debut LP. "If I could find a way to see this straight / I'd run away / To some fortune that I should have found by now", Gadhia belts in "Cough Syrup", a white-flame rapture of crackling regret right behind him, and as he drops to his knees for the two lower, quicker syllables of "by now", the staggering weight of his dashed dreams becomes briefly tangible. This ill-fated fortune-seeker seems to reappear in "Amerika", Home of the Strange's first single. Now, though, someone else is responsible for this evisceration of hope, or rather somewhere else: "I've been looking for so long in America / Throw my hands in the air", he sings, and it's left ambiguous whether his outstretched arms signal exasperation, evaporating faith in a nation and the dream it promises, or a desperate attempt to reclaim some sort of divinity.
If not in "Amerika", then this attempt is made in “Something to Believe In”, the second single released from the album. Considered sonically, it's a prototypical Young the Giant track through and through, replete with chugging guitars, no-frills indie rock production, and a cloud-clutching chorus so big it seems to strain every blood vessel in Gadhia’s body. “Just give me / Just give me something to believe in”, he sings, his voice quivering with stark intensity, and regardless if you think he sounds histrionic or spurious, it’s hard not to feel the yearning that afflicts him.
Although they've established their commercial clout with successful tours and steady album sales, Young the Giant have struggled to claim critical adulation. Home of the Strange certainly won't convert any naysayers of the band's straight-and-narrow take on alternative rock, but it does underscore what has emboldened their fanbase for so long: a sound that shakes arenas and a penchant for writing songs about individuals lost in the same places they call home.