For Fans Of
I board my train back home in the quiet rain and take a seat in the centre carriage. A haze hangs over the city skyline as shallow fog rolls across the train tracks. Settling down into my seat, I slip my headphones on to listen to the newest Young Lions’ record, the concept-driven ‘Mr. Spaceman’, for the first ever time.
The intro of opener ‘Out of The Dark’ creeps its way towards me as myself and the train disappear into the distance, launching the album off into the unknown. The gentle hum of synth pads and spacey textures sprinkled throughout the track’s mix envelop me as I closed my eyes, feeling the train sway on the tracks leaving the city behind as ‘Out Of The Dark‘ swells further into an ambient and beautiful climax. The drums here sound like they’re partially submerged underwater (i.e. with a heavy low-pass filter applied to them), slowly rising to the top and breaking the surface just as the song drops away. It gives a visceral feeling that sends me underwater, the light refracting behind my eyelids just as I’m sucked away from this amazing soundscape and into the harsh reality of the second song, ‘Blue Heaven’.
The rockier ‘Blue Heaven’, interestingly as the second song of this record, is what really sets the tone for ‘Mr. Spaceman‘ as a whole more than ‘Out Of The Dark‘. Whereas that was merely the opening cinematic and intro credits, this track is the proper start to the feature length film that is this album. Whereas previous efforts from Young Lions would suggest that this record would be filled with giant, melodic choruses in E-flat major with maybe one or two grittier songs to be had, ‘Mr. Spaceman’ and the journey its protagonist undergoes is one of loneliness, discomfort and struggle. Ergo, ‘Blue Heaven’ heavily features minor chords and layered guitars and synths that pull it along and drive home those aforementioned feelings without ever missing a beat – both figuratively and literally speaking. Haunting background melodies from frontman Zachary Britt (who’s performances throughout this record are as stunning as ever) utter away the song’s name, echoing throughout the chorus adding just that extra bit of flavour to a song reminding you that though this is still very much Young Lions, this isn’t an album that’s about to hold your hand for the next forty minutes.
From there, the terrific lead singles that were the superb and slow-building ‘Burn the Money’ and the emotionally heartfelt ‘Destroy Me’ continues these deeply personal moods and darker yet effective sounds as our character seems to slip away from the life he once knew and loved. Both songs are massive in their theme, range and melody, but rather than bringing your spirits up and enlightening you as previous anthems from these Aussie locals would, this pair opt for a different method of execution and weigh upon your shoulders, bringing you down. As such, when these track’s blossom into their bigger moments and their monolithic choruses touch down, you feel almost troubled and uneasy as the chord progressions seem almost dissonant and incorrect. But they’re not, and it’s a subtle stroke of genius from the group (and further proof of their amazing ability as songwriters) that allows them to slowly build this duo up and progress both in what feels like the most natural, fluent ways possible.
Tracks like ‘Better World’ and ‘Message’ at first listen might seem more sonically friendly, such as Young Lions‘ previous pieces, however the further you go and the deeper you listen, the more that emotional weight and that discomfort from the prior songs creep back in. It’s an inescapable feeling, really, and one that held my ears and mind in a vicelike-grip. Both songs feel just intensely heavy and sorrowful as their sound beds are filled with punctuating synths and grand ambient soundscapes crashing over one another. It adds a whole other layer to the band’s already layered rock framework and one that fits so well with the themes of ‘Mr. Spaceman‘. They’re beautifully well put together compositions but they carry this lyrical and musical yearning and distress. And this feeling is continued further in ‘Freedom’ which feels somewhat hopeless and desperate as it’s brilliantly textured and well-written lead melody gut-punches you around the minute mark.
Outside of this record’s own sage, on my own journey home, the train is now surrounded by forest and woods with fog skirting between the trees, seemingly attempting to encase the train itself. It’s as I now gaze out from my seat through the window and into the wider world that the band eases things down from the heights of ‘Freedom’ and into the title track, which is composed of nothing but Britt’s intimate vocals and a softly strummed acoustic guitar.
In an album that had dug in so intensely and bore down heavily upon me for the past half hour, this moment of quieter lamentation and simplicity is exponentially felt. It’s a heavy juxtaposition that works so well to reign home the fact that this story is really about the journey of one man – or one person – and their attempt to overcome the impossible and journey back home. This soft and emotional ballad leads us into the swirling, airy soundscape of ‘Anxiety’, and then onto album’s finale of ‘Superhuman’ to close off the record in a way that really took me by surprise.
See, I was ready for a huge and uplifting stadium rock song that would sing me all the way home (literally) but instead ‘Superhuman’ feels in a lot of ways… unfinished. It’s not the finale or the epic conclusion you’d expect for a cinematic story like this, let alone a Young Lions album. It’s once again a weighty, sorrowful listen through minor chords, harsh vocals and crushing choruses that continue to send you into a palpable feeling of ache and anxiousness. Even the song’s final melody doesn’t resolve as one would typically expect it to and it leaves the distorted and submerged sounds of the drums to fade away into the nothingness of space. It’s both powerful and poignant and it serves the overall album immensely well as a closer.
Now, I don’t want to talk much about the album’s lyrical narrative as I know that Young Lions themselves can do a far better job of that than myself and have more or less done so in previous interviews and will continue to as this record’s cycle around the sun continues. I’ve more than likely missed certain parts and the album is no doubt bigger in scope than I’m currently aware of at this very moment. Yet what I will say is that sonically, the record works as a complete story. What begins in this place of splendour and beauty is slowly sucked away and you’re ripped into this place of dark and discomfort that puts you right in the shoes of its main character as he journeys through space, alone and desperate to find his way back home.
Maybe it’s fitting that my first ever experience with ‘Mr. Spaceman’ in full – which is the way it must be digested and heard in order to be fully understood, mind you – was as I myself journeyed home one day on a piece of metal hurtling through the forest at a hundred kilometres an hour. Because though I can’t relate to being lost in the expansive cosmos above, up beyond the clouds in places where our minds could hardly ever comprehend, I can indeed relate to the deep, longing feeling of getting back to what you know best. Of wanting to return to the places you’re comfortable and feel safest and most secure in. And that’s really what this record is about to me. Not about floating through space and time and getting lost on some epic adventure. No, it’s an album about one thing and one thing only: Home, and the love and the need for it.
[Please note: ‘Anxiety’ and ‘Superhuman’ do not feature on the vinyl version of this record and are in some ways it seems, not apart of the full story. However, my first experience with this album was with those two songs included before I spoke with Zachary Britt on the album (which will be coming soon) and as such, have kept both songs as part of my discussion of this album.]