When asked to review Youth Man’s newest release, Five Songs EP, I was apprehensive.
I’ve been a fan of Birmingham’s premier sex-punk outfit since my uni days. I mean, a turn up to every show wearing the t-shirt kind of a fan. Since I first heard them, they’ve toured with Sacramento’s Trash Talk. They’ve appeared on festival bills both home and away, and are set to play Afropunk Brooklyn 2018 this summer alongside Janelle Monae, Tyler The Creator, and Erykah Badu.
Youth Man‘s previous Venn Records release, Wax, went down in the Midland’s heavy history, along with its ode to Jeremy Corbyn. They even got the director of The Prodigy’s ‘Nasty’ music video, Oliver Jones, to animate the stop motion short for ‘Look/Wait’, which sees the then-trio abducted by aliens. (This inspired some clumsy questioning from Drowned In Sound’s International Women’s Day 2017 Round Table, resulting in guitarist Kaila Whyte telling them she wished she had “suction pads attached to (her) extremities.”)
I’ve also been impatient for the new EP, but my gut feeling was that I’d struggle to be a balanced, impartial listener. I mulled it over. If I review Five Songs I get my hands on it before the release date…
Five Songs begins with ‘Mainland’. Considering both Youth Man’s blistering live reputation, and the fact that this EP clocks a duration of under fifteen minutes, you’d expect them to come in all guns blazing. The opening melody of ‘Mainland’ is disarmingly fragile. It’s not long before Marcus Perks kicks in with a metallic beat on the drums, though. Familiar growling bass underpins Whyte’s vocals, which progress to a Gothic wail.
The majority of Five Songs was thoroughly road-tested, so anyone who’s seen Youth Man live in the last six months or so will recognise ‘Valley Girl’ as soon as they hear its frantic, one note guitar line. Dissonant as it may be, tracks like this showcase the group’s appreciation for a good old fashioned hook.
Stuttering, sing-a-long choruses, hand claps, and a committed middle-eight breakdown hold your hand through the textured math rock sound. The record’s lead single ‘I Don’t Know’ takes a similar approach. Doo-woppy backing vocals triumph over fuzzed out guitar to make this their most accessible track to date.
Five Songs represents a crystallisation of the Youth Man sound. Hardcore-punk snobs could be forgiven for thinking this means they’ve softened with age, but the heft behind their music is present as ever. ‘Constantly’ is one minute forty of primal ¾ noise that echoes the density of their 2013 Bad Weather EP, while the capricious ‘Statuesque’ seems to close the record with less of a exclamation point and more of an interrobang.
Youth Man have expanded their musical horizons; Five Songs is less abrasive than their back catalogue, but every bit as outspoken. It may feature gospel flavoured backing vocals and the odd homemade percussion instrument, but each track on the EP still twitches with punk rock venom.
Five Songs EP by Youth Man is out on 29th June, released via Alcopop! Records. To order a copy direct from the label, visit www.ilovealcopop.awesomedistro.com/products/youth-man-five-songs
For more on Youth Man, visit www.youthman.bandcamp.com
For more on Alcopop! Records, visit www.ilovealcopop.awesomedistro.com