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Young People - All At Once

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Artist: Young People

Album: All At Once

Label: Too Pure

Review date: Apr. 10, 2006

It’s apparent from their first two albums that Young People relish transition – genre shifts, rhythm changes, dynamic variations. So it should come as no surprise that All At Once, the band’s third full-length, capitalizes on an internal state of flux. Since the release of War Prayers, Young People have signed to a higher profile label (Too Pure), fanned out across the country (New York and Los Angeles), and whittled their roster from three to two (Katie Eastburn and Jarret Silberman remain, Jeff Rosenberg has departed). These are the types of adjustments that some bands make as they lose relevance, but fluidity is one of this squad’s core principles.

Released in 2003, War Prayers represented a move away from the earthy rattle of Young People’s debut, which is still, for my money, their best record. At that time, the trio replaced its brilliant mix of sepia-toned gospel and lower Manhattan guitar noise with cooing vocals and swinging time signatures, and the shift was somewhat jarring. The first album gusted like a prairie tornado, guitar feedback whipping up clods of the clay dirt wrought by Eastburn’s soulful, straining voice. The swath it left behind – crumbs of the Carter Family, shards of Rhys Chatham – ought to have been fertile enough for a half-dozen albums worth of scavenging. Instead, War Prayers moved onto a new set of influences – film noir scores, smoky Civil War marches, French cabaret – and played like an opportunity missed.

All At Once shares many of the same stylistic preoccupations as War Prayers, but by carefully reworking similar material, it improves on its predecessor. Rosenberg’s absence requires Eastburn and Silberman to more diligently play off of one another, and they succeed in sculpting complex arrangements with remarkably lean but elastic instrumental lines. The album’s title, with its suggestion of a rub-your-belly-and-pat-your-head type of exercise, is in this sense quite apt.

“Forget” is uncommonly dark despite its sparse layering of tribal drumming, pulsing high-hat, lithe bass and twilight piano flickering. But the instrumentation serves primarily as a backdrop for Eastburn’s vocals. She’s focused her delivery since the band’s debut, no longer cracking after spiritual revelations, and her flattened enunciations and breathy melodies are coy and unpredictable. On the best tracks, like “F,” Eastburn is capable of sounding dainty against watery keyboard notes, jumping up an octave with Bjork-like syncopation, and mimicking a husky jazz diva on her swing back down. Her melodies are often a full half-step away from where Silberman’s guitar or bass line would conventionally place them, but Eastburn sells the dissonance with her icy command.

The roiling guitar tone of the previous records is missed, but the duo is smart not to try too hard to recreate it. “On the Farm” is one of the rare, clamorous moments, and its howling reverberations sound caustic in this new context. By sticking to their newly minted foundation of piano, percussion, and voice, Easburn and Silberman find plenty of latitude between eerie, candlelit dirges (“R and R”), absinthe-mad cabaret (“Reapers”), and hollow, sinewy rockers (“Ride On”). May they never find their one, true groove.

By Nathan Hogan

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War Prayers

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Find out more about Too Pure

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