Married couples and Polyvinyl make for some surprisingly good music. Indie rock power couple Mates of State called the label their home for a long time, while creating several memorable recordings during their tenure, as have Of Montreal’s Kevin and Nina Barnes, to a lesser extent (not lesser records, but less of a collaboration between the two). The label’s newest signing The Like Young is also a duo, consisting of Amanda and Joe Ziemba, a pair that may not match the adorability of their lovebird labelmates, but make up for it by rocking much, much harder. Their first release for the label, Last Secrets, is a remarkably full and powerful affair for a band so small in roster, even to the point of rivaling a band twice their size.
Though it’s not necessarily news for a duo to play loud, The Like Young actually plays upon subtleties rather than just cranking it up and letting loose. Not that there’s anything inherently wrong with just kicking some ass, but the Ziembas are masterful at creating a dynamic and wide expanse of sound, which can be much more rewarding in the long run than merely letting the power chords do all the talking.
Imagine a more amped up Spinanes, and you’re on to something here. Or, perhaps, Ted Leo & The Pharmacists sans bass. In fact, Joe’s voice sounds remarkably like Leo’s at times, which only works in their favor if you ask me. And paired with Amanda’s angelic vocals, the duo create heavenly, albeit rocking harmonies, which are one of their greatest strengths. “Dead Eyes” for instance finds the two reaching a sublime peak on the line “I don’t want to know you if you give me dead eyes.”
Simplicity, of course, works as well. First proper song “For Money or Love” rolls on chugging chords and a steady beat, playing it subtle before the more bombastic “Cold, Cold” follows. And yet, the meeting place between the two is where Joe and Amanda truly excel. “Spell It Out” is such a track, beginning with a minimal, eerie verse, later transitioning into a soaring new wave chorus with ethereal keyboards and Pixies-like power chord riffs. And when the group really wants, they can bring seriously heavy riffage to the table, as on the plodding “Writhe Like You Mean It.” The irony is, of course, Amanda’s lighter-than-air vocals float gently on top, creating a stark contrast, her opening line “things have evened out for once” seemingly summing up their approach.
If I hadn’t known that The Like Young were a romantic item, I never would have guessed. Not a particularly mawkish and doe-eyed couple, nor a cold and unfeeling one either, The Like Young sound like any energetic and fast-paced band, regardless of personal relationships. And yet, their interpersonal connection just might be the factor that makes their dynamic that much more impassioned and impacting.
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.