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Young People - War Prayers

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Artist: Young People

Album: War Prayers

Label: Dim Mak

Review date: Dec. 3, 2003

Young People’s first full-length, released in the summer of 2002, is a remarkable debut. Everything about it feels stretched to the brink of fundamental collapse – the front cover’s scrawled stick figures, the incorrectly sequenced track listing, incongruously flippant song titles like “Ron Jeremy”, “Elizabeth Taylor”, and “Rich Bitch”. Yet it’s this scattered sensibility, anchored by a taut emotional gravity, that makes the record work. Very few of its tracks reach two and a half minutes, and most pirouette internally, so what’s left when the dust settles are irresolute shards heaped jaggedly atop one another – Katie Eastburn evoking Sara Carter’s haunting vocal turns, Jeff Rosenburg mining the dark scrapings of the Velvet’s Black Angel’s Death Song, Jarrett Silberman replicating the solemn, rat-a-tat drumming of smoky Civil War battlefields. And because these sounds are compiled with a ragged and essentialist punk abandon, the record is at once chaotic and solemn, winking and sincere, and its cumulative effect is stirringly singular.

Having completed the obligatory move to Brooklyn, the band has just released their sophomore effort, War Prayers. By comparison I find it somewhat thin, but that’s also hard to qualify because War Prayers finds the trio extending their reach, incorporating moments of sultry cabaret and naïf folk to lighten the dark, Puritan mood of their debut. Songs like “Tammy Faye” and “Ask About the Dust” begin unexpectedly as coy, jaunty pop numbers that one imagines vocalist Eastburn cooing into a vintage Shure. Then, just as before, the tone will abruptly shift – “Tammy Faye”, for example, launches into a thumping military chant in its final seconds that is forceful, arresting, and reminiscent of many of the high-points of the band’s debut.

Thus it’s hard to pin down exactly what’s different about War Prayers. The marching snare and downbeat bone-rattle of Jarrett Silberman’s sparse percussion are holdovers from the trio’s debut. Jeff Rosenberg (also of Load noise-rock band Pink and Brown), while more inclined to play lead, still scribbles plenty of abstract guitar figures. And, as mentioned, the trio allow themselves more latitude for exploration this time out, particularly on the lengthy closer “The Night of the Hunter”, which weaves pious choral vocals and a tenor-sax boogie into its four minute and six second duration (epic by this band’s standards). But ultimately War Prayers has fewer of those moments that commingle the abrasive and the serene, the vanguard and the old guard, with the depth that “Ron Jeremy” and “Dishwashing Song”, “The Pier” and “Stay Sweet” managed on the debut. Eastburn sings where previously she belted. The syncopated bass lines feel tame in comparison to the manic fiddling and clawing of strings that worked so wonderfully before. On War Prayers the trio’s style is more deliberate and self-conscious, and some of the initial immediacy is missing.

There are, nevertheless, some truly great moments on War Prayers – “Dutch Oven” kicks up a glorious storm of noisy guitar as Eastburn clangs percussion and climbs out of her high range and out of her skin. Here the band strays close to a reckless neglect for each other’s lines, but you follow Eastburn in particular because of the conviction in her voice; the fragmented instrumentation slides, somehow, into logical place behind it. “Early Poetry” is similarly great, with Eastburn leading the charge out of a pool of muddled feedback into a soaring, wobbling march (“We are traveling light / I sing because I am happy / I sing because I am free”). It’s in moments like these that the gauze of self-consciousness seems to drop and the band blazes with the same ragged glory of their debut. From Young People, a small step back is still a very fine showing.

By Nathan Hogan

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