4. Youth Group - Catching And Killing
The last Youth Group album, Skeleton Jar, was such a big record for me. It was the soundtrack to some big years in my life. And it's so often you wear out a band by doing that. So, I wasn't that excited about a new Youth Group record. I was ready to like it but not love it, add it to the collection, listen to it for a couple of months, see them live a few times, and move on.
So I was nicely surprised by how good this album is, and how it just slowly won me over.
First thing that's striking about this record is the confidence, and then second is the economy and the cleanliness. It's just a solid, not-flashy album. Sometimes it gets very pop, very catchy and at others it's beautiful and intimate, but it's never cheap sounding, everything is warm and precise.
Start Today Tomorrow sums it all up. It's a simple Dylany/Donovany acoustic finger picked thing, and they've put the perfect string arrangement behind it. This is not the sound of a mid level indepedent Sydney four piece. It sounds like a classic cut from million dollar record.
But if that was all, then it would hardly make this a special record. What makes this album so special is Toby's songs, and the things he writes about. Skeleton Jar was coated in sadness and regret. Casino Twilight Dogs is about release and in some ways, being reborn.
And this hit me on a deeply personal level this year. I listened to tracks like Let It Go, On A String, Daisychains and Sorry, and realised that I needed to change my life. And it gave me support and confidence to see those changes through once I did. Listening to Daisychains, and the sorrowful pleading of the line - "I could have spent all summer sitting here making daisychains" - it puts a lump in my throat as think of people I could have happily wasted more time with, but didn't.
There are so many moments like that. Let It Go's full of them - "I will hold you as you start to slip/This will feel like dying". And Toby Martin is still one of the great literate lyricists, referencing Panasonic, Napoleon and other random things to make his points. Still, as much as I can ramble on here about how good this album is, in the end, this album just ended up meaning a lot to me.
If you need more convincing, check out the glorious Under the Underpass, which reminds me of Springsteen's Thunder Road with it's sense of living young even when we might not be anymore. Or Catching And Killing, the oddest single of the year with it's fumbling bass line and spitting surreal lyrics. It's a great album by anyone's standards.
One final word on Forever Young, the cover that ends this album that has exploded in Australia. It's not their best song but it's a spooky version of a very disturbing song. It doesn't truly fit on this record but it's hardly a terrible track. It ends the album on strange note - the optimism that fills the record is undercut by the idea the singer is about to kill himself and his partner. And maybe the whole album is that naive too.
I've worn out Skeleton Jar. It was a time and a place that is over. Casino Twilight Dogs will probably remind me of 2006 forever.