Australia's Youth Group add another album of midtempo, sensitive indie rock to an already crowded marketplace.
Seth, Summer and Ryan will all be leaving our TV screens shortly. And while the end of The O.C. hardly aroused the kind of response that the cancellation of Arrested Development did, it does mark the end of an era. At the height of it's popularity, The O.C.'s music supervisors, lead by Alexandra Patsavas managed to sneak into yet another silly teen soap opera, a bloggers wet dream of indie acts. Sure, the impact perhaps only lasted a season at most, but it caused a ripple in the industry that has caused shows like the One Tree Hill, Gilmore Girls and Grey's Anatomy to play catch up by both writing painfully obvious references to hip acts and inserting albeit less interesting, but still adventurous (by mainstream standards) music into their programming.
While the studios chase each other for music content, the exclusivity and excitement that The O.C. had in bringing fresh music to the television set has diminished considerably. On the flipside, a wide swath has now been cut open for mediocre bands to accidentally gain wider attention. The Fray scored an unexpected hit with their thoroughly stomach churning "How to Save a Life" when it appeared on Grey's Anatomy. The reason I bring all of this up is that, without an act of serendipity blessing Australia's Youth Group, there is no reason why Casino Twilight Dogs won't just fade into appropriate obscurity.
Youth Group debuted stateside in 2005 with their second album, Skeleton Jar. While it wasn't a complete success, it did offer considerable promise. The group capably shifted dynamics, and at their best, wrote the kind of truly affecting, jangly straightforward pop that Brit bands like Travis and Coldplay have forgotten how to pen. Though blessed with the press backing of none other than Death Cab for Cutie member Chris Walla himself, the group's album unfortunately failed to catch fire despite the presence of a good handful of solid singles. However, if Skeleton Jar couldn't capture media attention, Casino Twilight Dogs is in for a rough time.
The most notable change in direction on Casino Twilight Dogs is the distinct shaving of the group's edges. While producer Wayne Connelly added some grandeur and atmosphere to the band's largely straightforward songwriting on Skeleton Jar, here he spit shines them for FM radio. The listener is nearly blinded by the twinkling guitars throughout while singer Toby Martin's strong and thankfully not-to-sweet voice is pushed to the fore. But none if this would be so strong an issue if Connelly had better songs to work with.
The song's that made Skeleton Jar worth wading through were the ones that not coincidentally bucked songwriting formula. "Shadowlands" with its driving guitar attack and the six-minute "See Saw" showcased a band exploring deeper, darker territories. Whatever prompted those excursions is absent now, as from front to back, Casino Twilight Dogs stays the three-minute pop song course. In fact, only two of the 12 songs here go beyond the four-minute marker, and with most of the them proceeding at pleasant midtempo pace the tracks begin to blend indefinably into one another. "Daisychains" is the only song here that offers a glimpse of the band that could be here, but its lazy songwriting, relying on an increase of volume in the final quarter to try and salvage what was an admirable build up.
Unlike other emo bands, Youth Group is blessed with a singer who can sing and a talented team of players which makes them slightly harder to write off. But only slightly, because the final straw are their lyrics. The aforementioned "Daisychains" and "Sorry" (featuring the absolutely mind-blowing refrain: "Well I'm so sorry/ So sorry/ I'm so terribly, terribly sorry") feature some of the worst lyrics this side of an English high school class poetry reading. But, as The Fray have proven, painfully obvious can be an easy gateway to television, so who knows? Maybe Isaiah Washington could apologize on air to T.R. Knight with "Sorry" playing in the background. But until that historic event, Youth Group is probably best left on the shelf to perhaps grow up a little more.