In calling his music project Young Man, Colin Caulfield sounds like he’s hedging his bets. He’s unafraid to present himself earnestly, just so long as we all understand he’s still got some growing to do. Thus his debut LP, Ideas of Distance, should be taken as just a milestone on the path of discovering his untapped maturity.
There are plenty of folks who might disagree—not the least of whom is Bradford Cox, the venerable frontman of Deerhunter who likely created a sizable chunk of Caulfield’s fanbase after publicly praising his string of cover songs on YouTube. Caulfield’s instrumentation is lush and complex, and the connection makes sense once you consider the similarities between Cox and Caulfield. But whereas much of Cox’s ethereal pop grabs from electronic experimentation, Caulfield sticks to more traditional acoustic arrangements. It provides for a more physical texture in Young Man, as well as a plethora of unnecessary comparisons to folk artists.
But maybe nu-folk isn’t the worst way to categorize Caulfield’s approach. His quotes in press releases make you think his strongest songwriting influence was academia, and Ideas of Distance would be a decent term paper for a class taught by Robin Pecknold or Bonnie “Prince” Billy. He creates charming melodies with worn fingerpicking that lingers over a washy backboard of organ, bass and drums; and he seldom overcomplicates the process.
The conversation supported by Ideas starts on a pressing note. He sings, “It’s good to be here with you / By the way, I cannot stay late,” over humble strumming that slowly flourishes into a broad scope of organs and brass. It’s a loose picture to get a hold of. Ideas repeatedly attempts to find location through ambiguity, and maybe none does that better than “Then and Now.” Caulfield constructs an awe-worthy landscape that benefits from his rhythmic chanting, though it’s not exactly informed by it. His lyrics are rough abstractions on cliches: “These things are lost on me somehow;” “All good things must come to end.”
You get the feeling this indirectness is intentional—and there’s a decent chance it is. Caulfield’s stated purpose behind the record was to “create something people could draw their own interpretations from—some death of the modern author shit.” That’s an admirable approach, and he certainly succeeds in capturing enough elements of anxious impatience and yearning to captivate an audience in their own unease.
But even purposeful ambiguity easily lends itself to directionless meandering and frustrating navel-gazing. “Low” takes an amusing spin on Spanish guitar, but it’s not worth four minutes of the album’s time. “Only You” and “Fall” follow with tedious and slow-moving oceans of thought that fall under the same listener-repellant descriptors.
And anyways, Ideas is most poignant when the outline is crystal clear and the listener needs only to define the smallest objects, like on “Nothing.” In one of the album’s few moments that’s defined by percussion and bass, Caulfield rues the thought that he should “stay for nothing” alongside a powerful cascade of showering synths. He litters the soundscape with cymbals and keys that could be construed as sirens, wind chimes, birds, doorbells—hey, this is your story, you figure it out.
But let’s not forget that Caulfield is just a Young Man, and true introspection with a honed focus is a skill that only comes with age. At some point he’s going to stop letting us tell our stories and provide one all his own. And I suspect that’s when we’ll lose the immaturity subtext and stop referring to him as just a very talented artist, and start talking about him as a truly revelatory one.
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