Young the Giant - Mind Over Matter

California quintet, Young the Giant, release an enjoyable but familiar sophomore record.

Additional Info

7.3

ALBUM: Mind Over Matter

ARTIST: Young the Giant

2014

Alternative

After the commercial success of their self-titled debut (despite the harsh critique from Pitchfork), Young the Giant have returned for a much more low-key sophomore effort. With neither “It’s About Time” or “Crystalized” being as big as “Cough Syrup” or “My Body,” the slate was clean in a way I think the band might have wanted. Even though, out of uncertainty or lack of confidence in their own material, they front-load the most accessible tracks once again, this “clean slate” publicly allows frontman Sameer Gadhia to hone is chameleon-like talents as a vocalist. Whether it’s resonating lows or piercing highs, passionate whispers that tell stories or declamatory shouts of triumph, Gadhia masks himself from song to song and carries a variety of styles with him. The rest of the band, following suit, add as many nuanced plucks or twinkling keys in the empty space as the actual songwriting allows them too. Because, for all that the band does right in its catchiness and accessibility, there’s always a sense of familiarity throughout a majority of the record.

Young the Giant succeeds in a few different styles occasionally throughout the record. The gritty, hard-rock influenced “It’s About Time” is a fantastically energetic yet melodic tune, and, on the other end, “Teachers” begins as more of the same of their pop-rock aesthetic but builds into an exploding crescendo. However, it’s that time spent all too comfortably in the middle that eventually brings the album down. In fact, the main problem with Mind over Matter, and Young the Giant in general, is that tracks such as “Firelight” and “Camera” aren’t the focus. Meaning, the band does almost everything well or just good enough to be entertaining, catchy, and ultimately forgettable. They seem to be hesitant in developing their own presence. They go out of their way to showcase much more focused and resonating songwriting but place it on the back end of the album. Lyrics deprived of poignancy and filled with basic one-liners, great instrumentation that isn’t allowed to go anywhere unique, fantastic singing that’s ultimately inconsequential - all replaced for precise and deliberate stories, but a bit too late and not nearly enough times.

As much as Gadhia tries to instill interesting and memorable inflections to his already versatile singing, he seems to adhere to a set of unspoken rules and guidelines for creating user-friendly indie-rock - and this placidity that exists continuously hinders songs from making the crucial transition from enjoyable to cherished. When a hook like “when the beat of my drum meets the beat of you heart,” is delivered with such a straight face, the kitschy nature of a lot of the writing starts to become more prevalent. Thankfully, Young the Giant only get too comfortable in this groove a few times, and usually seem to be grasping for the next step up - even if they only graze it for now.

“I could be happier...”

1. Slow Drive
A short interlude which quietly builds up to an abrupt end - definitely effective in context as the “Anagram” jumpstarts the waning pulse of this album.
2. Anagram
The first track on this album begins with a bare, rhythmic, melody that quickly builds into the basis for this feel-good ode to the riddles of life. Everything from violins to synth influenced keys help establish this deliberate indie mold, and Gadhia’s vocals admittedly do a great job at being disarmingly catchy. “Life is a riddle, not a game of dice” he begins the song, and, aside from a few interesting falsetto moments, the rest of the song remains in that familiar and comfortable (almost cliched) niche. 7.5
3. It’s About Time
The grittier single, “It’s About Time,” begins with the dissenting “all the kids are throwing stick/politics,” and the instrumentation follows suit with a more hard-rock vibe in its thudding melody. Gadhia cherry-picks vocal ticks from various artists as he dips from airy highs into more controlled lows and harmonizes about “nights on the water” but being on a “tightrope.” It’s a song about disillusionment and the restlessness of “paradise and paradigms” but the content ends up being the least interesting aspect of the track. Thankfully it’s still and a good showing from Gadhia and the rest of the band. 8.0
4. Crystalized
The other, much more manufactured single, plays as any typical love ballad with it’s twinkling atmosphere (handled better on “Anagram”) and the increasingly insufferable “when the beat of my drum meets the beat of you heart” hook. Gadhia appears restricted, even as he tries to instill lines about “the house we built” with gravitas that just isn’t there. It could be a tale about his relationship with his hometown, or a lost love, or Narnia - it wouldn’t matter. It is definitely too middling in its ambition to retain any significance.5.0
5. Mind Over Matter
The titular track is more of the same inconsequential fluff found on “Crystalized” supported by the consistently entertaining assortment of strings, keys, and synth led by producer Justin Meldal-Johnsen (Nine Inch Nails, Beck, among others). “And when the seasons change, will you stand by me?” Gadhia questions, before declaring that he’s a “a young man built to fall (after all).” There is no deliberation or conviction behind the sound, even with Gadhia’s often beautiful (and sometimes borrowed) idiosyncrasies.5.0
6. Day Dreamer
Beginning with a delivery that’s removed from the usually higher-pitched singing, “Day Dreamer” matches the atypical indie-aesthetic with relentlessly melodies, hard-pressed to remove itself from the mold - but looking pretty comfortable just where it is. These melodies aren’t terribly original or interesting themselves (oddly, and eerily, sounding similar at times to popular post-hardcore band, “A Day to Remember” - when they shed their aggressive vocals) and is part of the repeated disconnect between the listener and the content.5.5
7. Firelight
With only one part-cliched, part-inconsequential line, “tell my friends I’m gone, it’s true,” this song punctuates the more upbeat, rock atmosphere up until this point with a beautiful passage about laying “down by the fire light.” Rather than focus on the lines like the former quip about “pass[ing] on,” “Firelight” sheds any premise of trying to be accessible int he songwriting and instead opts for a much more nuanced (and rewarding) approach. The harmonizing is as calming as it is piercing and Gadhia continues to make it very difficult to pin any of the album’s shortcomings on him. 9.0
8. Camera
With “Camera” and “Firelight,” Young the Giant hit a short but sweet stride that showcases a much more mellow and ruminative atmosphere. The same disillusioned and almost restless themes are still preset, with Gadhia claiming that he's "on holiday with a broken camera" but that all he says is "I could be happier." The slow and steady rhythm is fleetingly laced with distortion and static, melding the chirping keys with a hint of darker broodiness. 9.0
9. In My Home
Reverting back to a more typical pop-rock aesthetic, “In My Home” is a terribly familiar ode to a hometown and thoughts of "bright lights" and knowing you were "born for this." There's nothing offensively wrong with a track like this, except maybe that it starts to make the track list seem a bit spastic, and, with a frontman like Gadhia, it's at least an enjoyable listen. 6.0
10. Eros
One of the most accessible and pop-influenced tracks on the record, “Eros” is surprisingly also one of the most interesting from an instrumental standpoint. While the more fleshed out guitars overtake the rest of the soundscape by the end of the song, a majority of the rhythm is built off bouncing and plucking throughout the verses and hook. It’s an upbeat and joyful track that, for once, doesn’t seem to be overshadowed by its influences.8.0
11. Teachers
Beginning with “teachers, they try to reach us,” this track appears to be another conceptually half-baked effort that’s neither terrible nor great - like a majority of this release. However, it does contain a few fantastic portions towards the end, where the electronic presence is more prominent but combined with a guitar solo so as to force one approach to take a backseat to another. Gadhia’s singing verges on sounding like As Cities Burn frontman, Cody Bonnette - a powerful, affectionate yell resonating more than countless tired epigrams.8.0
12. Waves
One of the more original tracks on the record, Young the Giant seems to be developing as the album progresses. Gadhia continues to flex his vocal prowess, from the whispered quips to the belted notes, almost masquerading himself in his ability to switch styles - instead of being a distinct artist. As a whole, the band seems unaware of what’s truly poignant and what’s merely a stab in the dark at being profound. One tracks like “Waves,” they seem to be less worried about trying and more focused on the final product - and that definitely helps the songwriting.8.5
13. Paralysis
One of the more distinct songs on the album, the closing track begins with a haunting and eery “ooh,” hinting at a darker sound, before exploding into the usual upbeat cadence. But even as Gadhia sings, once again sounding like a different artist, about the usual pressures and paralysis, the tempo never lets up and it seems to be more a celebration after the fact, rather than a struggle right in the midst of it. If anything, this sequencing, that placed the more original songs towards the end, creates a sense of Young the Giant being a work in progress. However, “Paralysis” is a bright and hopeful note to end this sophomore record on. 9.0
Narsimha Chintaluri is a creative writer currently satiating his need to write by venting about music, tv and film on any given platform.



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