Album: An Unwavering Band of Light
Without fail, every bar has that one quick-witted, sharped-tongued girl who smells of whiskey and cigarette smoke. Her jokes are brilliant and her comebacks are zingers. She flexes her muscles as she shows off the latest edition to her sleeves, ensuring that everyone in the bar knows just how unbreakable she is. No one in the room will fuck with her. Period. She is both the girl you want to run from and run away with.
However, once you stop trying to sleep with her and really get to know her, it becomes rather clear that her tough exterior is nothing more than a defense mechanism for her sensitive and bruised soul. She has wounds surrounded by walls. But if you struggle over them, deep inside she’s softer than kittens and baby bunnies.
Jenny Owen Youngs’ music is that girl. On the surface, Youngs had consistently created a collection of tongue-in-cheek one-liners, placed persuasively over carefully constructed music. But when you dust off the surface to see what has settled on a lower level, you’ll find angst and insecurity buried beneath the pep and drum fills. Possessing the rare ability to take songs that should bring you down and place them over music that makes you want to dance, Youngs seems to create contractions not compositions. However, walk away from that sentence knowing that this is a compliment not a criticism.
Youngs’ latest album, An Unwavering Band of Light, is an extension of this already established signature. Her upward swing of albums, from Batten the Hatches into Transmitter Failure to the present have all aged her sound significantly, building a fair amount of depth which each of their births. For example, with each transition to the next album there has been a certain amount of growth. Transmitter went electric in its jump from Batten’s soft, soulful sound. Transmitter made way for Elliot Jacobson’s punctuated drumming with the release of Unwavering. On this album, Jacobson manages to turn his percussion skills into a band asset in a way generally only accomplished by guitarists. If you don’t believe me, check out tracks “Love for Long” and “Born to Lose” in which his sticks actually become the driving hook.
This addition is in no way a detraction from the things Youngs has become known for over the years. “Your Apartment” for example is a clean-cut citation of the catalog she offers. Her “Tom’s Diner” styled lyrics flawlessly epitomize the struggle of wanting a hopeless relationship to find hope in her. She playfully sums up the somewhat heavy situation stating, “Take me back to your apartment/ I’ll see if I’m correct/ ‘bout where you keep your heart love/ because I’m starting to suspect/ That it’s chained up in your basement/ inside an oaken chest/ That’s padlocked up to heaven to keep out what comes next.” While lighthearted, the seriousness of the moment is intact without presenting itself in a manner that clubs you in the face. Throughout the album, Youngs manages to walk that tightrope, approaching emotional content without gathering the label of being emo. It is of my opinion that this is because instead of explaining her point of view in defeat, she generally presents some hope from the ashes of her tragedies. “Love for Long” is a song about how people tend to be temporary arrangements, but worth enjoying in the moment. As a storyteller, Youngs seemingly manages to paint a rainbow in the background of every storm she sings about.
There is no questioning that An Unwavering Band of Light is a huge step forward for Youngs. She has managed to gather up all of the charm and charisma, that she has collected alone the shifty road of her career, and placed it on a mix that properly displays the talented firecracker she really is. While I hope for a long and success career out of this artist, if this album somehow ends up being her swan song, she can easily bow out proudly.
Review written by: Josh Hammond (Twitter)