Is third time the charm for this California-based rock group’s third, more political LP?
In many ways that’s actually a dumb question to ask. Young the Giant in all rights have been a relatively successful band, with two charting singles off their self-titled Young the Giant album, and even had their song “Cough Syrup” get covered on Glee! If you had a song on Glee, you can say it was at least somewhat successful. It was a pretty good album as well, full of subdued vocals and interesting grooves that felt somewhat unique.
Then they switched labels from Roadrunner to Fueled by Ramen. On the surface this seems like a beneficial move for both the band and audiences. Fueled by Ramen are the label behind successful artists like Panic! at the Disco, twenty one pilots, and my personal favorite Nate Ruess. Their second album Mind Over Matter not only suffered in the charts (not a single single hit the Billboard hot 100) because of this move but also suffered in quality as it tried to mimic the more grandiose and production-heavy aspects of their label peers. Weirdly enough the mix made them sound like early Coldplay, an Atlantic Records-based group. It seemed that this band was taking a leap towards obscurity and mediocrity.
Then Home of the Strange came out Friday, August 12th and fixed a lot of the issues that the previous album had. Gone is the heavy reliance on busy production and instead uses more developed and restrained sound that works to the band’s benefit. Sameer Gadhia’s vocals get breathing room as the arrangements are more subdued than either of the band’s previous albums. From the groove-laden bass in “Elsewhere” to the subtle synth textures of “Repeat,” you can see how greatly the production and arrangement of Young the Giant’s songs have improved.
The album is still very much an indie-rock album from the vocals harmonizing with synth sounds to the pounding amp crunch for the guitars. “Jungle Youth” sounds like they’re ripped right from a Black Keys or a Cold War Kids album, and “Silvertongue” sounds like any of the indie smash hits of the past half-year. This leads to a lot of the album feeling rather generic musically. This is most prevalent in the album’s first single “Something to Believe In” which is essentially an Arctic Monkeys song through and through. Pulsing guitar rhythms, similar percussion, fading between the pre-chorus and chorus, and high pitch synth guitar textures throughout the song. It would make sense that the first single is the most generic song on the album, but still remains an unoriginal tune.
The band does experiment in some parts of the album, though. Hell, the opening track “Amerika” opens with a vibraphone solo with the motor on and everything. It unfortunately fades into the background of the song rather quickly, but it’s still a nice, unique twist. Most of the experimentation comes in the latter half of the album with some songs being outright odd. “Art Exhibit” sounds slightly derivative of Fleet Foxes but with an indie-rock twist, a combination that works oddly incredibly well. The oddest song of the album is arguably the titular “Home of the Strange.” It’s full of out-of-key synthetic tom toms, odd guitar textures, and a basic melody that still somehow manages to sound weird. It also barely even has a hook, comprising of less lines than the pre-chorus. \ It is an odd choice for a titular song, but all the odd choices melt together into an enjoyable two and a half minute musical ride.
I should address the lyrics somewhat. It is in many ways a concept album about America and American culture. It is not a very subtle meaning, since the opening track is called “Amerika” and opens with the lyrics “And so I’ve arrived/with gold in my eyes” as Gadhia plays the role of an immigrant. They delve more into culture in songs like “Mr. Know-It-All” which talks about the differences in how people portray themselves to the public to what they actually are. All metaphor and semblances of subtlety in this are gone in “Home of the Strange.” The short hook of the song is “Land of the free, home of the strange/from shining sea to mountains great.” If that doesn’t scream “America,” not much else can.
Overall it’s relatively easy to tell if you’d like this album. Do you like Arctic Monkeys, The Black Keys, or any other indie-rock band of the past decade? You’ll probably like it. The songs, while mostly generic, are crafted relatively well and are fun to listen to. If you don’t like the indie-rock genre this album does not offer much else.