Album Review: The Young Novelists – Made Us Strangers
From the opening of The Young Novelists’ album Made Us Strangers listeners feel like this is a band from another era. They have a touch of James Taylor and maybe a little bit of Fleetwood Mac. Their style is both engaging and relaxing. This is an album that you can safely put on in the background and just chill, or put on your headphones and really focus. Either way, it’s a joyful listening experience.
Opener “Palindrome” feels a bit underwhelming at first, but as you listen and feel the song build the harmonies really sell it. Later in the song the electric guitar solo and the ensuing vocal harmonies on the chorus really make it a great song. Not to overstate the comparison, but I really here a touch of Dawes in this one. That’s about the highest praise I could give to a folk rock band.
The second song cleverly titled “Singer Songwriter” invites listeners into the complicated world of relationships between creatives. “I know you didn’t mean to ruin everything; I’m sorry if I got in your way.” It’s about trying to figure things out with someone and having it regrettably not work out. The song has a nice chill classic rock feel to it. “You told me I was your only safe bet, then you told me the truth in a voice full of regret.” There’s some really cool songwriting throughout the album and this song harbors a lot of the emotion that is characteristic of the band’s sound.
“Always Make the Mistake” is a song that really sticks with me. The lead vocal by Laura Spink is a gorgeous female voice that really cuts through a softly delivered acoustic guitar line. When the harmonies join, I get chills every time. Not only is it my favorite on the album, it’s a contender for song of the year. It has that timeless quality to it. It could have been recorded in 1965 or 2015… and literally any year in between. The voice reminds me of Karen Carpenter.
“Hear Your Voice” is a piano-driven song that is more an anthem than a ballad. That said, the vocals are still really good on this one, keeping it well within the graceful sounds of the Young Novelists. Sometimes they remind me a bit of the Spring Standards. [Side note: They should totally tour together. That would be an amazing show!] “Baby all I need is to hear your voice” might be the repeated lyric, but really the sentiment is that of desiring lasting love. It soars through not just in the lyrics but through the guitars and the voices as well. The whole song cries out for intimacy.
“Brothers in the Garage” is definitely the most classic sounding track on the album. Graydon James’s vocals even sound vintage on this one. Everything from the chord structure to the lyric quality make this one feel like it was born in the 1960s. The chorus is some excellent writing, “the rivalry’s alight and blood is on both sides, each song a civil war, each wave erodes the shore.”
The track “When you once were wild” sounds a bit like an 80s pop song. There’s a fascinating nostalgic fascination in the song, though. It’s about tragedy and looking back on difficulty. But it’s also about looking back on some pretty great moments as well. It seems like the writer is talking with someone important like a family member. The following “What Lies Ahead” goes in a really different direction. Musically, I just love the minor chord progressions on this one. “In the end it’s what lies ahead…” also has a gloriously well delivered paradox. Of course like all great paradoxical songs, it’s about a relationship. From my listen, the track could be about either a big breakup or getting married because “in the end it’s what lies ahead.” Either way, cool song.
“Couldn’t Be Any Worse” is a gorgeously stripped down track. This one, along with “Always Make the Misake” makes me really, really want to hear a full album by Laura Spink. Wow. But this song holds a sort of melancholic loving emotion to it. Sadly, the song’s main lyric is that “we could not be any worse for each other.”
The last track “Who Can Say” has a fun little vibe to it. “You tasted your wine and you wasted my time…” It’s what you might call the song of a bitter former lover. That said, the jangly, attitude-filled piano part and full band sound carries considerable weight. On an album with a few stripped down, melancholy songs, it’s nice to end with something a little more upbeat, even if the lyrics are still a bit on the sad side.
This album is full of great songs. Sometimes listeners might be put in mind of classic bands like the Partridge Family or Eagles. Other times the band sounds like their own unique contribution. The guitars are solid, the vocals exceptional, and the feeling throughout the album is extremely joyful even when the themes are slightly dark. It’s the work of a band that is quickly on the rise. If you dig it, purchase the music and share it with some friends. This is the kind of good music that deserves our support in an age of diminishing musicianship and meaningful messages.