Death Cab For Cutie’s Chris Walla clearly shows a preference when it comes to Australian bands. First he rants and raves about twee octet Architecture in Helsinki, and now he’s lending his endorsement to dreamy pop combo Youth Group. Gibbard is quoted as saying “If you don’t love them, your heart is dead,” which is quite a bold statement to be making about a band, particularly coming from someone who makes a living at making music. Isn’t that the sort of statement that makes people like Conor Oberst declare time and time again that he’s not writing songs for critics (who love the sassy little bugger, I might add)? Well, I’ve never heard such pretense come from the mouths of Death Cab members, but here’s some ammunition if it does.
Thing is, Walla’s actually right. Youth Group are a powerful, emotionally affecting…uh… group…that construct beauty and melodic catharsis through a surprising level of restraint. It’s a rare instance to hear any of the songs on Skeleton Jar, the band’s stateside debut, erupt into burly grunge rockers a la The Vines, a band with whom Youth Group shares a bass player in Patrick Matthews. The songs on Skeleton Jar are the sort of songs that Death Cab would probably write themselves, had they more of a penchant for shoegazer textures and a more stoic frontman like Youth Group’s Toby Martin.
That Skeleton Jar never divulges into garage rock rave-ups is more than refreshing, it’s been desperately needed for quite some time, particularly from an Aussie export. Datsuns, D4 and Jet be damned, Youth Group take on a more melancholy and darkly beautiful type of pop music, sounding more British than Australian. First track “Shadowland” begins with the makings of a great Pixies song, however, as a Steve Albini-like drum sound gallops across the opening, coming remarkably close to David Lovering’s intro to “Bone Machine.” Yet Martin sounds more innocent and detached than Black Francis, delicately singing foreboding lines like “I wanna float on the memories/not sink into the foamy seas of the shadow land.”
The jangle pop of “Lillian Lies” sounds like the best song the Posies never wrote, all Rickenbacker riffs and four chord hooks. “The Frankston Line,” however, sounds more like the product of a band such as Ride, as washes of guitar waltz underneath Martin’s choral croon. “Baby Body” is bouncier and louder, building up to one of the few instances of loud, noisy rock. But with an amp ejecting such high levels of overdrive, Youth Group still sounds more refined and crisp. Even when Martin’s innocent pipes spout such vehement outbursts as “you know these fuckers never crawled.”
Well, as it turns out, there is a lot to love on Skeleton Jar, so there’s hope for your weak ticker after all. And thus, Walla gets away with his hyperbole unscathed. I see big things in store for Youth Group, as they managed to get play on The O.C. before even having their album released in the United States. Not having actually watched the show, I don’t know what song made the cut, so I can’t really comment on that. What I can say is that Youth Group have something special. It’s subtle and it might take some attention on the part of the listener, but you’ll know once you hear it.
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.