Review : Jenny Owen Youngs - An Unwavering Band of Light
PopmattersJenny Owen Youngs’s first album, Batten the Hatches, stood out at the time, somewhat, in terms of its sound alone – it was nothing too unconventional, sticking primarily to the indie-pop toolbox of guitar, piano, light percussion, and primarily acoustic instruments, but it was very neatly and sharply produced. It sounded a little cleaner, a little more expensive than I, at least, expected from the genre at the time, accustomed as I was to the endless stacks of bedroom recordings going around. What really made the album stand out, though, and kept Jenny Owen Youngs’s name floating around in the “artists to watch” chunk of my brain, was Youngs’s singing voice. Her voice is incredibly expressive, and deeply emotionally communicative, but the emotions it communicates are frequently some of those most often avoided by largely-acoustic pop music – fury, bitter resignation, apathy. Unlike most enthralling expressions of these emotions, however, Youngs’s voice is still undeniably pretty. It’s a remarkable instrument (one that, alone, makes her a captivating performer), but also a great fit for the types of songs Youngs writes.
And despite their initially welcoming catchiness, many of the songs on her first album carried a deep weight of depression, one with more surly, lightly-drunken stupor to it than thrashing angst. The songs and their often-elegiac arrangements seemed at the time (to me at least) like the perfect tonal match for Youngs’s singing, at once both youthful and laden with experience, but what is most striking about the direction she has taken since then is how much she has evolved and changed her sound, while still making each step along the way seem like a perfect and natural fit. It’s a testament to the versatility of her voice and the quality of her arrangements and songwriting, sure, but also to a series of solid aesthetic experimentations, refinements and decisions.
While her second album, Transmitter Failure, took her music along a very-markedly-more-electric/electronic tack, with a handful of songs at least that were noticeably peppier, An Unwavering Band of Light is a surprisingly rewarding and enthusiastic fusion of the first two albums’ vibes – the music still sounds expensive and cleanly-produced, but it jumps all over the place in terms of mood, from lushly quiet hymns to wildly ebullient declamations, without ever feeling jarring or lacking stylistic coherence....full text
AbsolutepunkForgive me if I lack the career context to fully encapsulate the exciting talent that is Jenny Owen Youngs. My love for her and her music is rather new. To me, she was a “what’s-her-name-again?” opening up for Motion City Soundtrack’s full-album shows…until she stepped on the stage. I knew by reputation that she was a female singer-songwriter; I had no idea she was a ferocious hurricane of a woman who was going to rock my face off and send me running to her merch booth immediately after the set. That kind of feel-it-in-your-fingertips excitement is such a rarity. Thankfully, she’s encapsulated it in her wonderful new record, An Unwavering Band of Light, which is a huge step forward for her in almost every way, the best record of 2012’s abnormally strong first month and the kind of album that might only come along once or twice in an artist’s career.
Saying this is her best record is no small statement, either. Her last release, Transmitter Failure, was a fully-realized little gem that found her dabbling in all sorts of sounds, but its one flaw was a sense of safeness and fragility in the production. Compared to the primal thunder of her Black-Keys-ish, drum-and-guitar crunch live, it just lacked muscle. Thankfully, she addressed this concern across the board with huge leaps in production quality, but most notably by adding one Elliot Jacobson, a longtime collaborator of Ingrid Michaelson and a force of nature behind the kit. If you saw her live, you already knew his drumming was something to marvel at, matching and reciprocating her considerable ferocity at every turn but he truly brings the thunder on An Unwavering Band of Light. He thuds and pounds through every track with dexterity and taste, his drumbeats standing as one of the most memorable hooks in almost every song. Paired with more electric guitars and improved clarity in the production (where Transmitter was sometimes cautiously gauzy), Young’s always sturdy, carefully-crafted songs now have the power and muscle behind them to really pack the punch she’s always been working toward....full text
WhatstheruckusI have been looking forward to Jenny Owen Young’s latest album, AN UNWAVERING BAND OF LIGHT, for quite some time. But once she started playing songs from the new record during her StageIt shows, I have been desperate for it. It was pretty obvious that it was going to be fantastic. It did not disappoint. Exactly ten seconds into the new record, I had to stop what I was doing to spam Twitter and Facebook with how perfect it was.
Overall, the album demonstrates a new musical direction for JOY. The opening of “Love for Long,” is an assault of awesome with Elliot Jacobson’s intense drumming. “Pirates,” an early release from the album during live shows, does not disappoint in its studio version. Lyrically, this is classic JOY, mixing the childlike declaration, “We can be pirates” with the more serious suggestion, “or go somewhere private.” Musically, this is newer territory for JOY. The drums are loud and frenetic, and that is a staple for the early part of the record....full text
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