“This is where I come from / This is where I belong,” sings Young the Giant frontman Sameer Ghadia in his signature warbly vibrato on “Crystallized,” the second advance single from their sophomore effort Mind Over Matter. If there’s a line in the song that encapsulates the feeling of this album, to me, it’s this one. After a debut album that yielded two radio-friendly hits but little else, the band’s label switch and directional shift have landed them in a groove that, frankly, feels like home.
If you’re like me, you heard “My Body” and “Cough Syrup” and said to yourself, “Yeah, this is a band worth following.” These two singles were the best things to come from this indie rock band’s unlikely affiliation with Roadrunner Records, landing them a performance on the MTV Video Music Awards and an opening tour slot with Incubus. In the process, they connected with a larger audience and got their name known. But a deeper look at the rest of their self-titled album showed little substance and focus beyond these two songs, and it divided the critics, who rated the album all over the map. Was Young the Giant merely a one-trick pony? Was this an indie band who had sold their soul before ever getting out of the gate? The dichotomy was so great that we didn’t really know who they were beyond those two songs, or what to expect next.
With Mind Over Matter, however, I think we have our answer. A cohesive effort from start to finish, the album demonstrates consistent creativity, solid songwriting, and stellar musicality throughout its thirteen tracks, letting us know in no uncertain terms that whatever mainstream attention they’ve had so far, Young the Giant are at heart an indie-rock band—and a damn good one, at that.
Not a lot has been said about the band’s switch from Roadrunner Records to indie label Fueled By Ramen (though it’s easy to see this is a better fit). Nor has there been any sign of crisis; the band simply purposed not to succumb to the pressure to match their early success, and to relax and enjoy the process. In a recent interview with KROQ, guitarist Jacob Tilley put it this way: “We realized we were only creating this façade of a hurdle in our head and really, at the end of the day, we should just do what we did when we were sixteen and write music together and enjoy it and not really try to have a precedent or meet someone else’s expectations.”
However they describe their approach, it worked. Admittedly, the record trades in a bit of its radio-friendliness to get to this point (although there are still plenty of hooks to keep us interested), but the trade-off is well worth it. Instead of one or two songs carrying the rest of the album, Mind Over Matter stands on its own feet through most of the track list. From the complex rhythms and rambling melody line of “Anagram” through the funk-infused, reverb-guitar driven “Eros” into the 80s dance-pop of closing track “Paralysis,” Young the Giant appear to be in their element, free to create—and that freedom carries into the music. Even the more forgettable tunes like “Waves” and “Daydreamer” are forgivable in the context of “It’s About Time” and “In My Home.”
There’s plenty to be happy about on this record, but for me, the most powerful moments are the quieter ones, particularly twin ballads in the middle of the record, “Firelight” and “Camera”—the first, for its intimate melody over a simple acoustic guitar, and the second, for its haunting cries over an organ reminiscent of the opening of The Killers’ “All These Things That I Have Done.” Both are incredibly beautiful sonic backdrops for the passion and emotion in Ghadia’s voice.
And so, while fans looking for a sequel to “My Body” aren’t likely to find it on Mind Over Matter, they’ll find something even better: a band who have taken the opportunity on the dreaded “sophomore album” to find themselves. This band is still evolving, and the record isn’t perfect, but there’s enough here to let us know that Young the Giant are more than just a good indie-rock band. If they keep their focus, they have the potential to be one of the best bands of this decade.
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