by Sebastian Friis Sharif
Every scene has its cult heroes, bands and artists that consensus deems cool, whose live shows people attend religiously, whose songs everyone and their mother can sing/shout along to. Some are comfortable in remaining local favorites, playing beer-soaked shows for friends save perhaps for the odd DIY-tour every once in a while. Others seem to be going places from day one. Yung is definitely the latter, and now they're deservedly riding on a crest of buzz.
Ambition does come at a risk of alienation, however. In the blogosphere and the international music press, it feels as if the music often gets separated from its roots as it's made to compete for hype on equal footing with similar bands. The band/artist is thrown headfirst into the amorphous digital cloud where their music stands on its own, naked, judged on the quality of the recordings alone.
So how do you translate the fervor of that local fandom into an album review? You can't, is the obvious answer. You can watch all the KEXP sessions you like, but you can't ever grasp the sweet chaos of standing amidst 30 sweaty men and women roaring their lungs to pieces unless you witness it firsthand. You can read all the blog posts you like, but it will never match the thrill of discovery through the mouth-to-mouth chatter that arises when a band has consistently blown away fellow locals. I think that's why the “you weren't there”-kinda mythology thrives like it does for so many bands.
Believe me when I say, though, that when Yung hit the scene, it was a pretty big deal. I still get a childish twinkle in my eye when I think back on the day I went on Soundcloud and first heard ”Miss That Tree” from their first 7”. It was a revelation. It's mixture of frantic garage rock thrashing and larger-than-life punk rock a la Hüsker Dü that, while not exactly reinventing the wheel, felt so incredibly fresh. It was exactly the shot in the arm the Danish music scene needed at the time.
Yung didn't come completely unannounced, though. Mikkel Holm Silkjær, the songwriter/guitarist/singer of Yung, had previously explored various shades of hardcore punk, first in the Minor Threat-worshipping Urban Achievers (a Big Lebowski reference), then in the grungy Happy Hookers For Jesus (their lone release, the S/T 7”, is one of the best punk rock 7”'s to come out of Denmark, and the track ”Stab You” pretty much laid the template for Yung), and the garage punk outfit Fright Eye.
Still, even with the amount of potential Silkjær had shown previously, no one, I think, was prepared for how fast Yung broke the barrier first to the national and now international stage. The band went from a lo-fi solo project (on the S/T cassette) to becoming one of the biggest new punk bands in Denmark almost overnight. The Danish music press was quick with buzzy phrases like ”the new Iceage,” a no-brainer frame of reference for those unaware of the many nuances of punk rock. If you ask me, though, the only things the two bands have in common are their punk leanings. Iceage is much more of a dark, romantic, artsy and older-than-their-age type of band; their music is distinctly anglophile, while Yung crafts big anthems that are hopeful, nostalgic and more steeped in an American tradition.
The poignantly titled A Youthful Dream is the band's international debut album and their first full-length after signing to Fat Possum Records. Although Yung has two previous releases that could be considered full lengths, it's safe to assume that this will be the introduction to the band to a lot of people. With this in mind, it's hardly surprising that the band has abandoned the gnarly, jagged production of their national debut LP, Falter in favor a for a new, cleaner and tighter ditto on Youthful Dream, turning their otherwise raw, punk-indebted sound into something more accessible. This could easily have diluted their sound as so often happens with underground bands wanting to go big, but thankfully it was polished tastefully, retaining a good portion of their trademark grittiness.
I've used the word “punk” many times in this review already, but when listening to A Youthful Dream, it becomes clear how unconcerned Holm is with actually being “punk”. He's stated in several interviews that he wants Yung to be whatever he feels like, not confined to any genre or a certain ethos, and this notion certainly pervades the album. “Morning View” is a straight-up jangly indie pop song, all sunshine-y and happy-go-lucky with a quirky keyboard melody entering the song halfway through. Were it not for Holm's distinctive raspy voice this would be unidentifiable as a Yung song.
The same is true of the centerpiece, “The Child”, an epic, slow-burning ballad with grandiose horns and a solemn, clunking piano. It reminds me of something The National would do. It's a surprising move for a band that previously kept the BPM trending towards breakneck. As great musicians, they make the evolution seem like the most natural step.
There is restlessness in Yung's music that is compelling but also borders on oversaturation. Everything in their personal microcosm is concerned with Youth with a capital Y, from the band name, to the album title, to the themes of the lyrics. It's nostalgic music that dreamily reminisces and lingers on intense moments felt during adolescence. ”We were hiding on the beach/and in the woods we had a feast/we laid on the blanket/we tried to run from them” Holm sings on the infectious “Blanket.” It's pure, youthful escapism.
In some cases, however, it also means that songs feel unfinished. Short, explosive songs like “A Mortal Sin,” and “Commercial,” despite brimming with energy, struggle to make a mark or really stir the depths of the unconscious, even after repeat listens.
A Youthful Dream does showcase new emotional depth and more focused songwriting. They've successfully jumped out of the punk rock box, ready to stand on their own. Notably, there are none of the longer, jammier songs cultivated on last year's excellent EP, These Thoughts Are Mandatory Chores. Indeed there is less of the spine-chilling aggression of previous releases, but the highs are fortunately still in abundance. As such, it's an effort that neither disappoints nor defies expectations - Yung has simply moved in a different direction. It's an album carefully constructed to contain and explore many moods and emotions, and it's clear that this is the album Mikkel Silkjær Holm envisioned Yung making right from the start.