Sizing up Young the Giant

Three years ago, my friend received two tickets to see a relatively unknown indie band, Young the Giant. I tagged along, and I was surprisingly impressed by what I saw.

Young the Giant’s first album provided a refreshing taste of atmospheric pop-rock that stood out in an increasingly crowded indie music market. The success of their two breakout singles, “Cough Syrup” and “My Body,” brought the band a moderate amount of fame, and this January they returned with their second album, “Mind Over Matter.”

Unfortunately, this album suffers from the all-too-common sophomore slump. The band has moved toward a more pompous, synth-filled rock style, severing them from the quieter, reflective qualities that once made them unique.

The first single, “It’s About Time,” is an angst-ridden, grinding tune suited more to the Hot Topic crowd. The band’s label, Fueled by Ramen, is famous for representing “emo-pop” artists, including Paramore, Fall Out Boy and Panic! at the Disco.

Young the Giant seemed to be an outsider from this crowd — until now.

Their second single, “Crystallized,” recalls the band’s original style, with swirling guitar riffs and a calmer mood. But the song’s positive elements are masqueraded by an unnecessary use of synthesizer — a common problem on the album. The title track, “Mind Over Matter,” uses an excessive amount of dramatic violins and electronic effects.

Lead singer Sameer Gadhia’s distinctive voice remains a major contributor to Young the Giant’ success. He has an impressive range and a soothing timbre. Too often, though, the album sends him soaring to the top of his range with pounding drums and grinding guitar riffs in the background.

Ironically, the versatility and depth of his vocals shine through best on the album’s quietest track: “Firelight.” This song is undoubtedly the highlight of the album, featuring only Gadhia’s voice, a guitar, simple percussion and light synth effects. It recalls everything I loved about the first album, while still pushing their style in a new direction. Had the rest of the album matched the style of this song, it would have been an impressive sophomore comeback.

The second half of “Mind Over Matter” follows a calmer pattern, but many of the tunes start to blend together as an unfortunate consequence of this theme. Notable highlights include “Camera” — the lyrical story of two lovers who have fallen apart, narrated by a compilation of haunting organ music and harmonies — and “Eros” — one with catchy Vampire Weekend-esque guitar riffs. Despite these few noteworthy tracks, I found myself anxiously awaiting the end of the album.

“Mind Over Matter” is Young the Giant’s attempt to be a new Muse, following the increasingly popular trend of arena-style rock. When I first saw the band in a small, local venue, they managed to maintain an intimacy with the audience — even at their loudest. They appeared distinctly in their element. The album lacks much of that personal quality, a change which I predict will turn away much of their original fan base.

Published February 4, 2014 in Arts and Entertainment, tableau

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