Vol. 1 is a misnomer. The latest LP from Young Man is actually the second in a three-album set that frontman Colin Caulfield mapped out in his college dorm room. The trilogy—which began with last year’s ambitious Ideas of Distance—is meant to portray “the trajectory of a young musician, first starting out, making mistakes, then growing up;” which makes an argument for Vol. 1 being the “growing pains” album instead of the introduction implied by its title. And in fact, after receiving a debut LP of engrossing potential, we come out of Vol. 1 with less of an idea about Young Man than we came in with.
Caulfield made an early admirer out of Deerhunter’s Bradford Cox with several cover songs he put on YouTube, and Young Man show strong influence from Deerhunter’s prog-rock approach to writing hooks. Caulfield packs in crescendos and loops to add emotion and texture. If you squint your ears enough, you can almost hear the bass line from Deerhunter’s “Nothing Ever Happened” leading into “Fate,” a much sunnier take on the Microcastle track.
But more often than not, this obscures his work. “Do” features one of the album’s prettiest arrangements and engaging vocals, but it takes 50 seconds before we ever even hear a note. Then it’s another two-and-a-half minutes of thumb-twiddling before they go onto an outro of vocal harmonies worthy of a Simon and Garfunkel track.
Ultimately, this begs the question million-dollar question of pop music and accessibility. How does one discern whether the melodies are lost in abstractions, or if those abstractions simply exist in a plane beyond my comprehension? Caulfield’s not one to shy away from ambition, though in a press release he claimed to have “learned to embrace pop music like Kelly Rowland and Drake”—that is, pop music that’s not quite so esoteric. And there are enough pop elements littered throughout Vol. 1 to affirm Young Man’s potential as a unit, but nearly all of the most obvious and alluring elements are obscured by stretches of drawn-out interludes.
It’s impossible for anyone on the outside to make causative accusations, but so much of Vol. 1 suffers from the same problems that it seems to point toward a problem of groupthink. This is Caulfield’s first attempt at recording with a full band in the studio, and the talent in the room is obvious. But the hooks often lack a singular focus, and there’s a significant amount of fun to be had while working in a studio that’s better off left on the cutting room floor. Young Man’s first LP, Ideas of Distance, suffered from an inability to evoke poignancy due to a lack of precision; and Vol. 1 goes through even further abstractions.
The group waits until the album’s ninth and final track to drop the most impressive hook. “Directions” is the loosest song on the album, opening with sampled chatter and a quick synth hook. It’s a great three-minute pop number… that then carries on for another four and a half minutes of loose jamming in which Caulfield repeats the chorus: “I don’t know where I’m going.” It’s aimless and messy, and by the end he’s asking, “Am I already there?” No, but getting warmer.