War Prayers, the sophomore release from up-and-coming Left Coasters Young People is an album that could easily be thrown out after the first listen. If you’re looking for verse-chorus-verse, stop reading immediately and pick up a John Mayer CD. But fans of Sonic Youth, the Velvet Underground, and anyone looking to get a little more experimental in his indie rock horizons, rejoice and enjoy War Prayers.
Through the off-key crooning of Katie Eastburn, the droning guitars of Jeff Rosenburg and the sparse percussion arrangements of Jarrett Silberman, Young People make War Prayers really tough to get your ear around. But the songs feel and sound familiar and reminiscent of a bygone era, as if parts of them are lifted from the 1940s. The swing drums of “Rhumba,” the beat poetry vocals on “The Valley” and the overall improvisation feel of the songs make War Prayers connect to bygone eras of music, and a bygone era of wartime.
In the end the album delivers what the title promises. War Prayers seemingly tracks a soldier who ships out across the sea to fight a war overseas in the desert. On the opening track “El Paso” the soon-to-be soldier proclaims, “Just don’t make a reason to stay” to his significant other. On “Tammy Faye,” a group of soldiers proclaim in unison that they “are all going.” “Rhumba” tracks the flight of a paratrooper through the air praying that his parachute “don’t fail me now.” The soldier further prays, “If I should die, box me up, send me home.” The soldiers carry no illusions that they may not live to make it back. In an era of fluff-music and reality singers, Young People delivers an album with something incredibly fresh: relevance.
The loveliest moment of this short album — its eleven songs weigh in at less than 25 minutes (GBV would be proud!) — comes at the end of the wonderfully crafted “Ne’re Do Well.” The song is laden with off-key punctuated vocals that glide and resolve into key at the end of the song. Eastburn’s voice floats down like an angel: “See clouds burst in the sky, like a mind out in the desert.” Eastburn contrasts this beautiful war image with a real horror from war; the dream and the nightmare. It’s a moment in which Young People reveal that all the off-sounds are purposeful, creating tension and ugliness, much like war.
Avant-garde or avant-garbage? It really depends on the listener. One thing is for certain: With an online home at www.ilikeyoungpeople.com, they have a really unfortunate Web address.