With Young Galaxy’s self-titled debut LP, The Great White North’s Arts & Crafts label has actually issued a release from a band not directly connected to ‘Canadian Invasion’ superstars Broken Social Scene, and the record… doesn’t sound that far from Broken Social Scene. But that’s a good thing. The Montreal-by-way-of-Vancouver duo of Stephen Ramsay and Catherine McCandless have put together an atmospheric-yet-encompassing harmony that clearly owes a debt to Toronto’s BSS, but they also go their own way, especially in the second half of the album, slowing things up and taking the atmosphere to the stratosphere. Unfortunately, that’s where Young Galaxy slips.
Young Galaxy starts off incredibly strong, with the flowing and melodic “Swing Your Heartache”. Its overly moralistic lyrics are given credence by the song’s anthemistic qualities (though there is an off-putting almost-rap). “Heartache” is followed by the more guitar-driven, but equally as impressive, “No Matter How Hard You Try”. The guitars go more epic on the record’s possibly best number, “Wailing Wall”, which features a great beat and an excellent chorus. Ramsay’s relaxed, unassuming, but heartfelt voice on “Wall”, and most of the record, evokes comparisons to Dean Wareham (Galaxie 500, Luna, Dean & Britta) or Ben Cooper (Electric President, Radical Face). And Young Galaxy are at their most Broken Social Scene-iest with the McCandless-sung “Outside The City”, as her echoing vocals, the overwhelming guitars, and its emotional ‘Get up!’ force, are all very reminiscent of BSS’ female-sung pieces.
All found in Young Galaxy’s first half, those tracks’ remarkable quality regrettably does not hold up quite so well on the album’s latter part. Middle track “The Sun’s Coming Up and My Plane’s Going Down” is slower and nice, but also too atmospheric, and, at over six minutes, too dragging. Similar problems hurt the shorter “Lost In the Call” and the record’s finisher, “The Alchemy Between Us”, where Ramsay’s over-affected reverbed/echoed vocals leave his words rather treacly.
The second half also features other not-quite-as-good-as-the-first-half experiments, like the more straightforwardly driving, but also excessively winsome, “Searchlight”, and the nicely upbeat, but maybe too upbeat, “Come and See”. And then there’s “Embers”, the biggest departure on Young Galaxy, and also its weakest track. The alt-folk, singer/songwriter number by McCandless has a kind of ‘Christian/Nashville’ feel to it, and not in a good way.
Arts & Crafts have already expanded their roster past Broken Social Scene-affiliated bands, with such groups as The Dears (whom Young Galaxy opened for), France’s Phoenix, and The Hidden Cameras. But its heart remains with co-founder Kevin Drew’s sprawling BSS, and in its connected acts, like Apostle of Hustle, Feist, and Stars. But with Young Galaxy, the label is finally finding a happy medium, making its engulfing supersound into a true genre (‘Canu-rock’? ‘Mountie-Music’? ‘Alt-Maple’? ‘Indie-Molson’?). On Young Galaxy, Stephen Ramsay and Catherine McCandless deliver some strong pieces right in that vein, and some not-quite-as-strong pieces not-as-much in that vein.