Photo and story by Hannah Shulman, Editor-at-Large
In a time where there is the possibility of a President Trump, the fact that Young The Giant begin their latest album “Home of the Strange” with opener “Amerika” seems an outright political statement. Certainly, it is a move that takes confidence. However, this confidence extends beyond titles, and can be found throughout “Home of the Strange,” from complex layers to lavish vocals. Even on the first listen, it is clear that the band has settled into their niche; they are no longer just an indie band or just an alternative band. They’ve created a space for themselves that allows for freedom of expression that takes the form of a “modern American immigrant story,” according to the press release that accompanied the album advance. The strong foundation of this album is composed of what makes Young the Giant; they are refreshingly great musicians that give you something to look for when digging into a song.
The opening track “Amerika” offers the first schism from the usual Young the Giant song format. While drummer Francois Comtois has previously provided the backup vocals, during the bridge of the song, he gets upgraded to lead. There are, however, still tell-tale signs of it being a Young the Giant song, like synths that highlight the end of a rhetorical question.
If you tune into any alternative rock radio station, “Something to Believe In” will probably be playing. The most rock-influenced song on the album provides a driving drum line and gritty lead guitar. The theme of the song echoes back to their last album, “Mind Over Matter,” telling the audience to “realize you’re a slave to your mind / break free / now give me something to believe in.”
The staccato “Mr. Know It All” shows a slight change in songwriting style that is apparent throughout the rest of album as well. The song tells the story of Jack and Jill, who present a front that “no one knows / that it’s all for show.” The pair must live up to being the things they present themselves as. At the end of the song, it is revealed that the narrator is in fact “Mr. Know It All.” This is one of the band’s first songs to tell a complex story that could stand alone from its musical counterparts.
“Titus Was Born” is sound-wise a 180-degree-flip from the distortion that is at the forefront of the previous track, “Jungle Youth.” The juxtaposition of the two is joined by soft rain sounds that end “Jungle Youth” and begin “Titus Was Born,” acting as a way to prepare you for the second half of the album. “Titus Was Born” continues the story-telling elements of the album with Gadhia, joined by, I assume, Eric Cannata in the recounting of Titus, who was “born / under the eye of the storm” and was “carried…around the world and back again” by the rainwater, an element and lyric continued throughout the song. Although the song may initially remind listeners of “Typhoon” or “Firelight,” by about the halfway mark, Comtois joins on vocals and the rest of the band appears, furthering the band’s commitment to providing listeners with something that is more than just a newer version of their last album.
Funky and pointed, the verses of “Silvertongue” are a sound that Young the Giant has not released before. The words are sung quickly and deeply which is resolved in the relatively simple chorus, which mainly repeats “I got that silvertongue” a couple of times. While this song isn’t an anthem, it’s a good filler song that one could easily see themselves jamming to in one’s car.
The ukuleles is the star in “Art Exhibit,” a romanticized story of the narrator and their involvement with an artist. Further into the song, a string accompaniment is added and soon the song turns into a lovesick story of the attempts by the narrator to gain closure from the experience of having a relationship with this person. The song overall is more lyrically interesting than it is musically, and the recorder during the prelude in the middle of the song doesn’t do much for me.
Just in case you forgot Young the Giant was going for something different in “Home of the Strange,” the tenth track, “Nothing’s Over,” opens with a watered-down “Inception”-esque percussive BROOOOOOOOOOONG, with snaps thrown in for good measure. It resolves into an up-tempo chorus that states “It’s over / nothing’s over / I’ll grow up when I’m older” with more distortion. The third quarter of the song is an instrumental jam that eventually ends in an acoustic version of the chorus.
“Land of the free / home of the strange” opens up the last song, “Home of the Strange.” It continues with altered lines from the original American canon classic “Oh Say Can You See,” which acts as the the base for the pre-chorus lyrics. Gadhia continues to sing about being free, begging “don’t put me in my grave.” Short and concise, this song has an “driving down the freeway going 70 with the top down” type of movement.
But what about the political statement? There are so many lyrics and nuances within each song that could be attributed to the band’s desire to take a stance on issues of displacement. I think it’s important to realize that this album is also a statement of confidence from the band, as they have taken more risks and delved deeper into creating a space for themselves within the indie/rock/whatever scene. While they didn’t mean to have such a pertinent theme, in doing so, they’ve cemented my belief that Young the Giant just knows what’s right when it comes to their music. They never over do, and they compete with such poise in an industry that can really tear the soul out of an artist.
“Home of the Strange” comes out August 12.
Email Hannah Shulman at email@example.com.