Words by Grey Malkin
Rising from the ashes of the recently and sadly deceased Trembling Bells (one of the finest psych folk bands of recent times), bassist Simon Shaw has assembled erstwhile Bells guitarist and drummer Mike Hastings and Alex Neilson, alongside members of fellow Glaswegian outfits Boss Hogg, Belle And Sebastian and Lucky Luke, under the banner of Youth of America. Not so much emerging as driving full throttle out into the daylight, YOA Rising, their debut album, resplendent with its Kenneth Anger referencing sleeve artwork, is a remarkably confident, articulate and fully realised album. Those who took the Trembling Bells to their heart will also adore this, as will anyone with a penchant for carefully constructed psych rock, girl group pop and the spirit of late 60’s New York.
The album opens with ‘Spirit of 94’, subtle Velvets guitar expertly interwoven with Shangri Las style drumbeats and crystalline lead vocals from Lucy Sweet and Sophie Sexon. A glistening diamond of a song, it sets out the band’s modus operandi with able intent and clear purpose. Next, a heavy and welcome 60’s smoky fug of Hammond organ and reverbed fuzz guitar permeates the truly lovely ‘Down The Rabbit Hole’, a twisted girl group melodrama of perfect psych pop with a swirling, Siouxsie Sioux kaleidoscopic ending. Handclaps and shimmering treble guitars announce ‘Broken Down ’57 Ford’, its honeyed harmonies and wounded lyrics creating an authentically doomed anthem that both captivates and delights in equal measure, the song’s aesthetic beauty belying the darkness beneath. Urgent, whirling organ and thunderous drumming begins the Doors-esque epic ‘Death Ship Sails Tonight’, a paisley patterned drag race of a track that sings of fated lovers and hints at a ‘Leader of the Pack/Terry’ style tragic conclusion. Previous single ‘Night Of The Comet’ shudders to life on molten blasts of psych guitar and an addictive descending motif, its dual male/female harmonies perhaps the closest Youth Of America get to their alma mater Trembling Bells in the song’s hint of folk rock; yet the cackling guitars and triumphant pop chorus takes this celestial slice of acid rock elsewhere, less folk festival and more lysergic UFO club.
Blasts of Sonic Youth distortion announce ‘Angels Diner’, insistent piano and harmonised vocals creating a sense of genuine urgency over wildly expressive fuzzed out guitar. A Black Sabbath-style midsong breakdown allows for a masterclass of dynamics and stop-start tension before the escalating drums and guitar seem to exit the earth’s atmosphere entirely. Next, ‘Navigator’ captivates with its swagger and glam charm, a scuffed diamond of a song with a subtle thread of melancholy and nostalgia underpinning the chiming guitars and inherent yearning in Lucy Sweet and Sophie Sexon’s vocals.
Youth of America make creating the perfect psych pop song seem effortless, but the precise layers and careful construction of these songs is evident; hooks and melodies spill from the grooves and each song is its own vignette or story. This is as much an album of carefully wrought cinematic tales and filmscapes as much as it is a collection of songs. Accordingly, the reverberated twang of ‘Ice Tower’ is a winter landscape of broken hearts and glimmering hope, with Youth of America as a Poppy Family for the modern generation. ‘Faith Village’, meanwhile, is a more pensive, apocalyptic concern, a spoken word piece describing a long ago Halloween experienced as a part of a religious cult, dark shards of guitar ebbing and flowing until a dread stomp of howling guitar and drums builds to a Lydia Lunch/ Teenage Jesus and the Jerks type finale. The gorgeously country tinged ‘Ciao Manhattan’ is a more than suitable closer, swirling psych vocals swooping over bell peals of guitar, galloping drums and flute as the song reverberates into a wistful but warm ending to an album that has been as much an experience as a collection of songs.
YOA Rising is the kind of album that could have been pulled out of the record racks at any point in the last 30 years (or indeed, any time in the next 30 years) and be felt to be a classic recording. The care and close attention given to each detail throughout is tangible and the moods subsequently conjured are equal parts emotive, evocative and intoxicating; there are no weak tracks, no fillers here – just a collection of veritable jewels and gems. You must hear this; Youth of America’s time is now.
Purchase the album here
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