For Fans Of
Who is Gray Young? This is a question I couldn’t answer prior to ‘Staysail’, and honestly, still can’t answer. I used my powers of internet perusal to research, but found very little information on this elusive indie outfit out of Raleigh, North Carolina. Even surnames were impossible for me to pin down, so forgive me for speaking of Gray Young as though I know them on a personal level. ‘Staysail’ is the follow-up from the group’s 2009 release, ‘Firmament’.
Immersion comes easy when Gray Young sweep over the soundwaves. Their sound doesn’t rely on intricacies, or even on subtlety. It just is. Were it not for the often haunting, afterthought murmurings of Chas, who also wields the guitar for Gray Young, they’d probably be classed as an instrumental outfit. His voice is heard more in some songs than others, and if I’m being blunt I think they’re at their best when just rolling out an elongated, instrumental crescendo without sign of stopping – it is in these moments that Gray Young forge their identity.
“Ten Years” opens the record, and immediately captures your imagination. It’s enough to make you think ‘hey, these guys have scope.’ ‘Staysail’ has been mixed sublimely; the booming toms of the drums thud loud and the bass underlines the, deliberately, gain-flavoured clean guitar beautifully. These qualities cement a signature sound early. Gray Young tread dangerously close on sounding very one-track.
I had to do a double-take on the second track “Inside/Outside”, as I swore part of it with ripped straight out of the opening track. I strongly doubted motifs would be emerging this early in the record, and sure enough; the same rolling toms with a noticeably different, but not too dissimilar, guitar track. It’s probably unfair to begin asking questions two tracks into a record, and I soon learnt I may have been pre-emptive.
‘Staysail’ is certainly a record of contrasting styles and textures.
“Unbound” takes a simpler approach, raking acoustic chords supported by echoed, dreamlike vocals and a banjo of all things. This is one of the strongest and weakest tracks for Chas, from a vocals perspective. He struggles badly during the verses in this song, as his clear strength seems to be belting out passages in a higher register – which this song also demands.
“Cycles” succeeds “Unbound” and reverts back to the signature ambiance that makes Gray Young quite memorable at times. I often wonder if this kind of soft, beautiful crescendo could be regarded to as the big band music of our generation – some things Gray Young composed for this record only support that idea I’ve been mulling over.
The potent pairing of steel-strings and banjo return in “Prescience”, which is probably one of my favourite tracks on the entire record. It is one of the few tracks lacking percussion and is better for the omission; I consider it my new unwind song after those long days. Though, I do enjoy a good banjo here, and there. “Picture (Meridian)” and “Meridian (Picture)” – clever titles, I know – round out the record, epitomizing Gray Young in six, short minutes. If ‘Staysail’ were a woman, my tip is that she’d be unpredictably intense, and moody as hell.
Gray Young are still so unknown to me, my misguided efforts to gather intel have rendered me quizzical. ‘Staysail’ tells me that they’re probably not yet seasoned campaigners, but that they do have untapped potential. The album is full of imbalance and uncertainty. One second it is lulling you into a sound slumber, and the next it is a freight train as the crescendo begins to mount momentum. That is the beauty of this raw, independent music that, perhaps, will be heard by too few.
1. Ten Years
3. The Dawning Low
9. Picture (Meridian)
10. Meridian (Picture)
11. A Clearing