Young Galaxy - Ultramarine

by Steve Rhodes Rating:5 Release Date:2013-04-08

Electronic pop has become a saturated market in recent years and, while artists such as M83 and La Roux have reaped the benefits more than most, a huge number of fellow acts are also looking back to the 80s and beyond for inspiration. Canadian group Young Galaxy have been plugging away in this field for more than five years with their own take on the genre. It's an often dreamier direction, towards School of Seven Bells meets Caribou, and has produced some decent releases. None more so than 2011's Shapeshifting, an album which should have stood out far moe than it did. Their fourth album, Ultramarine, takes more of a direct approach, with an increased use of synths, shaving off some of the more hazier touches, but fails to ignite.

Opener 'Pretty Boy' sums up the frustrating nature of the album. An upbeat electronic start in the realm of Cut Copy or The Naked and Famous, with downbeat yet initially reassuring lyrics ("When we were lost, we found each other") should be a successful combination, but there is a complete lack of drive in the song. Though the chorus is more enveloping, it fails to poke its head out of mundanity. The main problem is with much of the lyrics themselves, such as: "I felt your pain when you changed your name". They take an often simplistic stance and regularly border on the inane.

'Fall for You' likewise begins with promise then turns into the monstrosity of Paul Simon's Graceland, with clichéd electronic drumming. Sounding like Dario G's 'Sunchyme' but without a decent song to steal from, or Florence & the Machine at their blandest, it is hook-less and once again the lyrics are disposable: "I work the mines till the break of dawn". I very much doubt you do!

It's a pity that an album feels spoilt by the words, as many of the tracks show promise, with the exception of the dubious Haircut 100-meets-EMF horror-show of 'Out the Gate Backwards'. But Ultramarine suffers further in that there is often little conviction in the delivery. For example: "There's life and death and somewhere in-between" on the sassier 'Fever' is sung with detachment to any meaning.

It's a shame, as Catherine McCandless' vocals are strong and perfectly suited to the melodies, with Propaganda and ZTT records a clear, positive influence. It just seems like the sterile production has removed the feeling on a number of tracks. 'Hard to Tell' perfectly sums this up, with a stronger melody and a much improved chorus, but it naggingly feels passionless in places, like Hot Chop or Holy Fuck without the soul .Meanwhile, 'What We Want', a more driving song with better hooks and with a haunting edge of Fever Ray, seems forced and unconvincing.

Thankfully, there are still a number of strong songs on the album. 'New Summer' benefits from a slower pace and analogue synths and beats, while possessing an uplifting and embracing chorus without being bombastic. A good mix of 80s influences, such as OMD and Eurythmics, and contemporary beats, this has far more heart in one song than the rest of the album.

The playful 'Sleepwalk With Me' resembles arcade computer gaming in the squelchy bass keys, and is a nice, upbeat closer to the album, while 'In Fire' shares the analogue inclination, leaning more towards Kraftwerk and Ladytron in the keys and beats. Catherine's vocal appears in better alignment with the track, with the lyrics kept at a minimum, allowing the robust melody to carry the song.

Fair play to Young Galaxy for varying their sound and trying something different. However, Ultramarine is ultimately a failed experiment. There is nothing remotely that comes close to matching the extraordinary 'Blown Minded' from Shapeshifting or the powerful 'Embers' from their eponymous début, which is a real shame, though there is still some promise on this record. With kinder production, a little more variation and stronger lyrics, Young Galaxy could make greater progress and build more successfully on their early promise than they have with Ultramarine.

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