Review : Young Galaxy - Shapeshifting
PitchforkDivining the inspirations and reasons why behind a record's sound can be tricky business, but sometimes it's obvious. Young Galaxy were a mostly stagnant indie rock band out of Montreal whose dream-pop debut failed to garner any buzz on Arts & Crafts records. When 2009's Invisible Republic reduced their reliance on obfuscation and tightened their rhythms, they still felt like a genre band outside the indie zeitgeist: theatric, self-serious synth-pop. Shapeshifting, the band's third album and first on Paper Bag Records, was produced remotely by Studio's Dan Lissvik. The band retains their big-idea spaciness but sees Lissvik place his coiled rhythms and pulsing synths all over. The result is Young Galaxy's finest record, and while it's impossible to say if Lissvik made the band better, he definitely made them more interesting and relevant.
Young Galaxy have always been good at glancing skyward, but Lissvik provided them the jetpacks necessary to travel there. Lissvik received a fully recorded album from the band and was charged with producing/augmenting the material. Whatever specific contributions he did make, Shapeshifting sounds like his work, at least rhythmically: The songs are underpinned by short, repeating circuits of disco guitar, twinkling piano, and disco thumps. It's impossible to hear the tropical whorls of "Peripheral Visionaries" or the way "Phantom"'s jumping, trebly guitars sink in and out of elongated sighs without hearing the elusive Swede. Sometimes the results are stunning. On "We Have Everything", McCandless casts aside her celestial musings in favor of ascendant personal theater: "I wept when we parted/ I wept when we united/ In poverty my love we have everything," she sings, Lissvik stretching a cityscape behind her. "B.S.E." recalls a more muscular version of the Eurythmics.
Young Galaxy make explicit the type of evergreen romanticism mostly implied by bands like M83 and the Dears. Songs like "We Have Everything" will make you want to seize your inner libertine and/or power through your modest gym workout. They are not fucking around with vagaries or self-consciousness: at one point Catherine McCandless sings, "Watch as energy/ Rolls out to us on golden horns of light." McCandless and the less operatic but less captivating Stephen Ramsay are hopelessly, furiously enchanted throughout. The lyrics can be oppressively silly, and even if they're no more so than some of Young Galaxy's peers (Cut Copy, M83) I find it harder to suppress the snickers during their starry dramas. Shapeshifting is not an album for those repulsed by horoscopes and dreamcatchers....full text
MezzicIndie music likes comfort. It’s why disappointment runs rampant nowadays. Stick to the trend, you’ll do decently. Maybe very well. Do something different? Nah, we’ll leave that to someone else. Something was fundamentally different about “Cover Your Tracks” in spite of its baleric beat. “Peripheral Visionaries” emerged days later, with its churning bass drum kick, sprinkled keys and build-up not typical of indie these days. You expect it to stay solid, but the music built slow and steady into a tremendous chorused group singing near the end; improbably catchy attributed to the first taste “Cover Your Tracks.” Now, revert back to Montreal’s Young Galaxy‘s prior Invisible Republic and the talent instantly solidifies in the otherwise diluted indie blogosphere. You see, Invisible Republic was full indie pop with a drifting spirit. Shapeshifting is a sea change, leaving you satisfied by the ambient absence of too much. It’s like going to Underground Kitchen for dinner, paying for quality, receiving small portions, and leaving with a glow only a late night blurring dance party can give you.
Studio‘s Dan Lissvik took what Stephen Ramsay, Catherine McCandless and Stephen Kemp recorded and reinterpreted the pieces. Skype connected the dots between Sweden and Canada, leaving something unpredictable starting with the backwards “Nth” plunging into “The Angels Are Surely Weeping.” Despite the dreary title and dramatic album art, the electronic and synth elements don’t leave the album frigid. Hanna’s guest vocals are an instance of the warm layers interspersed throughout. Stephen and Catherine’s vocals, their harmonies especially, are the extra logs to the hearth. When she takes over on “Blown Minded,” it slowly becomes evident their last album is a thing of the past. Their new shift towards a true dream pop, atmospherically punctuated by piano over sirens of synth, digging deep.
What makes Shapeshifting so remarkable is the production, beats that consistently move forward as on “We Have Everything” and “Peripheral Visionaries.” It’s varied as well, lending a bit of Balearic to “Phantoms” and “Cover Your Tracks” while going into ghastly isolation through “High and Goodbye.” And while transformation and transfiguration permeate the lyrics throughout, the music always moves either forward or left or inward less predictably than you would expect from the ‘indie’ label....full text
ChartattackYoung Galaxy fans have become accustomed to the band shifting gears with each album. Their self-released sophomore record was a refreshing about-face from their Arts & Crafts debut. But nothing could prepare for the left-turn the Montreal group have taken with Shapeshifting.
The band recorded a series of demos in Montreal last spring. They were looking to mix things up once again, so they contacted Swedish producer Dan Lissvik, who's one half of production duo Studio, to master the record. Young Galaxy spoke regularly with Lissvik as he tweaked the recording in his studio over the next six months. But the band were never able to actually hear any of the work in progress. It turns out their songs were in trustworthy hands.
Shapeshifting, the finished product, is a stunning album mixing the band's knack for studio experimentation with Studio's brand of clean beats and electronic flourishes. It also finds keyboardist Catherine McCandless really stepping up as a lead singer, fulfilling the promise she showed on "Disposable Times."
This an album that works as both a collection of singles — any of these tracks can stand on their own — while maintaining a consistent vibe throughout that ensures marathon listening sessions (of which I've partaken in more than a few) never get old.
Making bold predictions this early in the year seems rash, but I'd bet money on this record making its way into the Polaris Music Prize short list. If anything, Shapeshifting will finally catapult Young Galaxy out of the ranks of perpetual underdog and into the upper echelons of Canadian indie stardom....full text
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