Album Reviews

Young the Giant – Mind Over Matter

on January 24, 2014, 12:01am
younggiant_mindmatter C-
Release Date
January 21, 2014
Label
Fueled By Ramen
Formats
digital, vinyl, cd
Buy it on amazon

The curse of the second album. Some careers are built slowly, album after album showing a band growing into their own, finding a sound, perfecting that sound (see: The National). A very, very rare few crush it out of the gate, dropping a goddamn near perfect first album and then keeping it up as the years progress (see: Arcade Fire). Another subset of bands have the good fortune of putting together a remarkable first album, but then stumble on the second. That particular list of cautionary tales seems abundant. MGMT had a genre-defining first record, then saw little critical or fan love from their second venture. The Killers’ first album had the previously unknown band filling arenas within months, but subsequent efforts never quite mainlined the zeitgeist again.

In 2010, an unknown group of lads out of Irvine, California, released their first record, the eponymous Young the Giant. This remarkably polished first outing established the band as purveyors of a sort of radio-friendly indie rock that combined pop hooks, soaring vocal and guitar lines, and a hazy sheen of Cali-born good vibes that earned easy, if repetitive, comparisons to drives along the PCH or late summer bonfires at Huntington Beach. Young the Giant found a sweet spot in sugary pop rock with just enough indie cred to let the beardos enjoy without first soaking themselves in Irony Cologne (TM pending). The vast majority of bands never write a classic pop tune, but Young the Giant did it twice on their first album. “My Body” and “Cough Syrup” are stone-cold hits. Surrounding those hits are a string of solid-to-exceptional tracks, making Young the Giant an enjoyable listen from beginning to end.

The quintet’s sophomore effort, Mind Over Matter, documents the metamorphosis of the band from indie darling who could to full-blown arena rock overlords. The post-prog elements — grandiose guitar, skittering percussion fills, overblown vocals — have always been a part of their sound, but on “Mind Over Matter” these elements have been cranked up to nine out of ten on the scale of Muse-ness).

This is a kind of progress, and perhaps we should be heralding a band for becoming who they’ve always wanted to be, but fans of the earnest storytelling and indie-friendly rough edges of Young the Giant will be left wanting. Gone are the simple lamentations about walking to and from a lover’s apartment in the rain. Replaced, for example, by the love song-via-rumination of astral objects hurtling through space (or something) in “Crystallized”.

“Crystallized” and “It’s About Time”, not coincidentally the lead singles from the album, both deal in ballsy, bro-riffic power pop. There are shouted choruses, lurching lead guitar lines (with a dark touch of metal), matching keyboard melodies, and bridges that reek of Mars Volta homage. All the gloss and shimmer doesn’t add to the overall enjoyment of the album, but presents a wavering distraction from the content. Take for example “Mind Over Matter”, which asks, “If the over-the-top guitar and vocals aren’t enough, why not throw in a smattering of canned synth-strings?”

Young the Giant are a technically proficient group who no doubt shred through these tracks during live performances, but the over-production is an impediment to enjoying the individual performances. For example, on “Daydreamer” one must wade through layer after layer of gloss (and more canned strings) to focus on the intriguing, snaking guitar riffs.

Young the Giant’s best asset has always been the tremendous power and range of  lead singer Sameer Gadhia’s vocals. At points it feels like Mind Over Matter producer Justin Meldal Johnson bent over backward to create mixes that could compete with Gadhia’s strength. Virtuosic talents like Gadhia’s often sound best when given room to breathe and expand, as on Young the Giant’s “God Made Man” or Mind Over Matter’s “Firelight”, where a simple plucked guitar line and atmospheric tones serve as a platform, not competition for Gadhia. The result is the sweetest and most emotionally impactful song on the record. In the absence of bombast, something like genuine emotion shines through. Almost halfway through the song, Gadhia holds a softly invoked note for roughly 20 seconds before finishing with a flourish. On an album so choked with production, the simplest moment is its most affecting.

Bands grow, they change, they become newer versions of themselves. Sometimes this is inevitable. Sometimes it’s progress. Other times a band turns into something unfamiliar. It seems that Young the Giant are well on their way to becoming the arena rock gods they, perhaps, always imagined they would be. As they travel this path, they might just add thousands of new fans, thereby obscuring the loss of many early supporters.

Essential Tracks: “Firelight”

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12 comments

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Anonymous
April 17, 2014 at 2:29 pm

this is a perfect review. my sentiments exactly.

jorellan
February 28, 2014 at 10:56 pm

Gotta agree with most of this review (over-production, more impersonal/meta lyrics, etc.), especially as it applies to the last few songs on the album. Having said that, I think the final score over looks the addictive quality of tracks 2-6.

Not sure how things are quantified I guess (which is always the issue with assigning a number or letter score), but still… C- translates to pretty shite in my books, and this album has enough in those five tracks that I’ll definitely be revisiting quite a bit.

Duder
February 24, 2014 at 1:19 pm

I saw ytg last night. The songs from this album were very powerful in a live setting. I don’t agree with your rating of this album; and since you say in this review that arcade fire puts out good music I’ll disregard this review entirely. What is the appeal of arcade fire? What am I missing? Everything I have heard from arcade fire is boring. This ytg album thumps.

Gene
January 28, 2014 at 9:01 am

Kristofer I really liked your perspective with this review!

I think what’s most impressive about this album is that a lot of the “synth” textures were created using guitar effect pedals like the Strymon Timeline. Of course the ordinary listener wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between a studio effect added post-recording via DAW, or an effect from a guiitar pedal like the Timeline, but it’s really a testament to the skill of Tilley and Cannata as guitarists. It also means that the songs can be easily played live without having the mix dominated by loop tracks. I really thought this album was very organic sounding despite the new sounds that they’ve added.. it’s always ballsy to go explore a new sound..

It’s pretty exciting that these days a band can release a sophomore album with a completely revamped sound while still holding tight to their L.A origins. Anagram, Mind over Matter, Camera, Eros and Waves are songs that throw listeners into different eras of L.A’s music scene. Individually as musicians, the band behind Sameer saw Mind Over Matter as an opportunity to stretch/challenge their capabilities as artists and find a way to create a fresh sound while sticking to their foundations. For that, I have a lot of respect for them! Beats the hell out of nearly everyone that won a Grammy this year…

I think once we see them tour this album, we’ll see how the live sound is identical to the studio recording! (A rare talent these days…)

Sorry if this is a very disjointed comment… I’m hungover like some ****.

Anonymous
January 27, 2014 at 1:53 pm

How can you knock a band for having an awesome vocalist?

Kristofer Lenz
January 27, 2014 at 2:00 pm

Pretty sure I wrote “Young the Giant’s best asset has always been the tremendous power and range of lead singer Sameer Gadhia’s vocals.” What I am criticizing is production that does it’s best to fight rather than support those vocals. I want to hear Gadhia, not chase his voice behind squelching keyboards and canned strings.

Anonymous
January 26, 2014 at 1:34 am

I think this is a really good analysis. I personally was very pleased with this second album and I am glad to see that this isn’t the ever feared sophomore slump that bands try to avoid. YTG has done the evolution that they craved and I’m glad they were able to pull it off in this experimental matter. I do agree that the production needs work. I wasn’t quite sure what was going to happen when i found out that YTG signed with Fueled by Ramen who have worked with a lot of punk icons. And one can hear the punk mixing influence; the guitar parts (which the band have improved upon) where more accented and polished then the raw vocals that many fell in love with on most of the album.

Then again for me I just remember that this band does focus more on their live performances. This shows in their first album because they recorded everything together instead of separating tracks. This transition to the new label was what scared me the most, but it doesn’t seem to have done any credible damage.

I still and will always love these guys and can’t wait to catch them on this tour!

Kristofer Lenz
January 27, 2014 at 2:04 pm

This is a really great comment. Even while writing a negative review I couldn’t help but think these songs are probably epic live. Thanks for your insight!

Lucas
January 25, 2014 at 11:04 pm

I disagree completely with this. I LOVE this new album, and I liked the first one too… A band shouldn’t be punished for not staying the same. The sounds are still phenomenal and I couldn’t be more happy with this release. Good work YTG.

Ethan
January 24, 2014 at 11:35 pm

Time will tell…I give this album an A. This album is incredible and gets better with each listen.

Lane Chaplin
January 24, 2014 at 6:30 pm

I was disappointed in this release. It was boring and lazy, imo. I think you nailed it with the criticism of not allowing the vocals to shine. It reminded me a lot of Panic! ‘s new album in that sense. They keep back their strongest asset. Maybe that’s the way Ramen wants to go these days…?

Miami Swamp
January 24, 2014 at 2:20 pm

Reblogged this on Miami Swamp.

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