Death Cab for Cutie’s Transatlanticism was an important guide in my transition from pop-punk to indie-rock (and then, via “Passenger Seat,” to acoustic music). I pulled it out earlier this summer to find that it sounds more like a pop-rock record than I remember. The songs are in no way diminished, but they feel noisier than I wanted them to be–I was looking for the distinctively indie-pop set of aesthetics (soft sounds, crisp edges, less clang, more clatter). But it’s an indie-pop-rock record, probably one of the best. We can get into a discussion of power-pop (early Weezer) vs. indie-pop-rock (Tokyo Police Club), but the point is that Young Mister‘s self-titled indie-pop-rock record feels like the direct successor to Gibbard et al’s masterpiece work, from its breezy California milieu, expansive take on indie-pop, and straightforward-yet-arresting lyrics.
Young Mister blasts put of the starting gate with “The Best Thing,” where Stephen Fiore marshals a sunshiny a.m. radio guitar radio riff, bouncy bass, and wryly honest vocal delivery to apologize for oversleeping his girlfriend’s hour of need: “I heard your car stalled on the interstate / I hope you got where you were going.” The chorus is a bubble of air breaking the surface, a rush of horns and lightness after the restrained verses. “Would It Kill You” and “Pasadena” continue this chipper, breezy pop vibe; the tunes pop out of the speakers with clarity and confidence. The deft hand with which oft-subtle musical and emotional shifts is handled shows Fiore as a songwriter with great skills. The shifts also echo the great sweeps of “Tiny Vessels,” “We Looked Like Giants,” and even “Transatlanticism” itself.
Elsewhere the tunes tend toward the expansive rather than the speedy, just as in its predecessor album: “Sound of Settling” is the single, but “Title and Registration” is the home base. Fiore gives “Would It Kill You” and “Take Me Away” some edge to keep things fresh into the album’s depths, but the composure of quieter tunes like “American Dream Come True,” “Carolina,” and “Everything Has Its Place” makes them shine brightest. “American Dream Come True” is a mid-tempo pop song with beautiful guitar work, a lovely vocal performance, and a devastating lyrical turn. It recalls Fountains of Wayne’s more pensive work. “Carolina” is a rueful, mourning break-up tune, wishing a lost lover the best. The sonic palette isn’t that different from “American Dream,” but the distinctive, anthemic chorus moves it into “songs other people might want to cover” territory. Dropping everything to its bare bones,”Everything Has Its Place” creates a floating world couched in delicate reverb, very precise melodies, and a deep sense of romanticism. It’s as if the sparseness of “Lightness” and the emotional ballast of “Transatlanticism” were merged into one daydreamy tune.
The lyrical punch of “American Dream Come True” is not an isolated incident: Fiore is an excellent lyricist. He’s as comfortable singing about “the fucked-up systems that failed you now” (“Would It Kill You”) as he is petitioning Christ for grace (“Carolina”) and sighing at the incredible effort of dating when you’re not in your early ’20s anymore (“Take Me Away,” “Anybody Out There”). His turns of phrase are clever, his topics are more than your standard stock, and his work is highly polished. But the lyrics don’t stray into the esoteric or the hyper-specific; he grounds his lyrics firmly in well-observed and carefully described experience. It’s the rare indie-pop-rock album that can add to the quality of the album with the lyrical effort, but Fiore has certainly done that here.
Young Mister is so carefully and meticulously crafted that it doesn’t show any of the seams. An immense amount of effort went into making indie-pop-rock songs that sound effortless and natural. You can sing along with these songs, write the lyrics on your bedroom wall, or just let the experience wash over you–all the things that my friends and I did with Transatlanticism. Whatever you choose to do, you should start by giving the album a thorough listen. Fans of pop music won’t be disappointed. I’ll be spinning this one for a long time. Highly recommended.