All at Once is an album that demands to be met halfway. It becomes obvious rather quickly that a standard set of criteria cannot be used to penetrate the musical façade, at once inviting and intimidating, which Katie Eastburn and Jarrett Silberman have constructed. A cunning simplicity masks oblique juxtapositions; oblique juxtapositions confuse an earnest simplicity. Masks and confusions are donned only to be thrown off and replaced. It is an album of black and rouged sketches, which somehow feel more whole when they become more abstracted from their basic structures. The conjunction of two solitary sensibilities, it is also an album evincing a supreme preoccupation with skinning a song to its bare elements—of eliminating all but what is necessary.
The great thing about All at Once is that it comprises, in a very direct way, a rethinking of what elements are necessary in a one and a half to four minute `pop’ song. To say that Young People write moody songs is not to say that they are all of one mood. While quite a few do suggest the theatricality of a film noir world cast in smoke and red light (see “The Clock”), there are plenty of joyful moments stitched into All at Once. Eastburn’s breathy vocals tread a whimsical course through the playful and melodic “Reapers,” though they do so in constant contact with the incessant atmosphere-drenched rhythm provided by Silberman. And “F” positively bubbles above an emphatic layer of hand clapping, the vocals distinctly suggestive of the travails and triumphs of a vintage Hollywood heroine. Jammed between the blitheness of these two songs is “On the Farm,” which after beginning with a disjunctive squall of guitars, chanting and harmonizing, unsettles into an oddly symbiotic union of throbbing feedback and atonal vocals, evoking nothing so much as the glacial majesty of The Marble Index. A chaotic surface reveals a deep and implacable stasis, just as in the case of the latter.
This is a rhythmic album. A steady pulse reemerges time and again, however deeply it may be buried. This is also, as previously suggested, an album of discovery—the discovery of ways in which seemingly unrelated ideas and sounds can come together, can by sheer will, be joined. “Slow Moving Storm,” blustering initially with sultrily crooned vocals unadorned, save by steady rollicking drums, dives unexpectedly into a Southern tinged Broadway strut of an interlude only to pick up where it left off before abruptly concluding. “Forget” twitches nervously, Eastburn’s impassive vocals again feeling as if they are about to detach from the primality of the fuzzy backbeat; but as always, the ties are not wholly severed.
All at Once is more a collage than a work of cohesive unity. Rather, it is content in suggesting that a unity of undiluted and disparate elements is possible; Young People do not shave the edges of these elements to make them seem more compatible, more easily consumable. This is a disruptive album, not one to be put on and promptly forgotten while you are cooking dinner. It is an effective antidote to listener boredom and complacency, jagged with fragments of ideas, and frustrating by its constant shifts of mood and style. It may not be the album that you listen to in seeking everyday solace, but it just may be the one that you reach for when nothing else will do. That is to say, it is different, and different in a way that can satisfy the listener in a dark and indeterminate mood; it is a conduit back to possibility.