Written by Demetri
Art Rock, a genre covered in controversy. For inspired musicians looking to branch out and create refreshing sounds, writing music that fits in with the genre is a goal. For critics, it’s a pretentious label that bands may use to stand out among their peers or as an excuse for them to not find their sound, using the argument “art’s just like subjective, maaan!”. Whichever philosophy you choose to embrace, it begs the question “How do you write new and interesting music that encapsulates a zeitgeist and reflects an artist’s vision?” And the answer is… unanswerable in a sense. You’ve gotta just get the sounds in your head out and embellish appropriately when the idea has matured into a structured composition.
Genre labels aside, Young Rapids successfully divvy their music’s reflection of society and personality with catchy indie elements that have defined their sound since their first release “Day Light Savings.” While this introduced a straightforward songwriting style comparable to sanitized garage rock bands a la The Strokes + keyboards, there sophomore follow-up, Pretty Ugly demonstrates a focus on producing content that is as experimental as it is catchy.
The album’s first track “Someone Help The Ghost” opens with a cheeky assortment extreme low frequencies paired with singer/keyboardist Dan Gleason’s falsetto vocals resolving to dreamy keys. This intro establishes from the get-go, the juxtaposition of pretty and ugly, (among others) a theme carried throughout the album’s composition style. The band does not sacrifice listenability and catchiness for these dissonant sounds, musical complexity, and overall weirdness, managing to combine the fun pop earworm with a heavy focus on melody and arrhythmic pacing. Songs like “What R U Saying” and “You Won’t” emphasize an avant garde feel which may polarize some listeners with their non-straightforward approach to something casually listenable, a stylistic choice present throughout the album. A track like “Odd Numbers” begins and carries out a bouncy, emotionally heart wrenching, dance vibe, and then immediately unravels itself, undoing what could easily be a song heard at a fest or college bar.
The album closes with the ultimate two-part song “Pretty” & “Ugly”. Beginning with a tensive prolonged instrumental based around machine-like distorted and delayed guitar parts and lush piano, the songs first half brilliantly sets up the second half, with calmer elements establishing a sense of realization. And instantly, it climaxes into what feels like a epiphany, a sudden realization of great truth. “Now I understand” concludes the album. But what is it that we really understand?