Inspired by the Herman Wouk novel of the same name, the new band project ‘Youngblood Hawke’ was born out of late night creative reflections between best friends Sam Martin and Simon Katz. Exhausted by two years of touring with their former band (‘Iglu & Hartly’ ) – and the general turbulence that comes with success in the music industry – Martin and Katz looked for a simpler creative outlet where they could write and share music with friends and family, and without the commercial pressures. Katz’s long time friend Tasso Smith moved to Los Angeles from Texas to join the band when he heard the first demos, and Alice Katz, who was a key part of the original songwriting sessions, joined as well. To complete the line-up they recruited drummer and friend Nik Hughes.
The band release their début album, WAKE UP, in the UK on August 5th.
Life can be hard for a musician. Wandering on the road – the confusion and anxiety caused by interminable delays – the sudden changes of plan – the steady stream of unfamiliar faces and new places – it all causes stress, fatigue and irritability. So first song, “Rootless” is about the pain of touring. And trying to shake off the feelings of insecurity. “I’m Feelin’ Rootless ….” It’s a song that aptly describes the disengaged, tumble-weed existence that is experienced by many artists. The sense of loss is acute. Silver disc shaped sounds add a melancholy tint to the harmonies on this brilliant piece.
Those words “Headed for the open door. Tell me what you’re waiting for. Look across the great divide… Soon they’re gonna hear the sound…” is a wake up call for all those who yearn for life in the open … and is an especially welcoming anthem for any outdoor music event. The accompanying video for ‘We Come Running’ has already racked up over 2 million hits – and has a “Life Aquatic” underwater theme to it. Nevertheless, this song is actually a wide-outdoors number. One of the most joyous facets of this magnificently addictive chant-filled hymn is the beautifully engaging addition of the West Los Angeles Children’s Choir. Superb and angelic.
‘Dreams’ has a slightly oriental vibe. Chopstick piano and lacewing vocals flutter lightly across your brow as you listen. The notes lightly touch your skin. But this is a song about making dreams come true – and about being strong enough to seize them. As always, we have great harmonies that speak reams of their own. And also, on this song, we experience great mud-pots of gurgling bass sound – that steam with an intensely saturated humidity. All this creates an environment that is particularly conducive to dancing lightly and partying with friends.
‘Danny Boy’ has a Celtic flavor to it. Hot pipes and percussive barnacles that cling to the lower parts of the song – ready to shuffle around the edges. ‘Stars (Hold On)’ is another song about browsing through the nebulous moments of life. We all need a light that guides us through the betrayal. “We’ve all got the sun to follow…” The song strides manfully forward. Forbearing and graceful. The mild polyphony, grandly flouted in the magnificent chorus, has the burning sensation of charismatic craving.
Youngblood Hawk tend to play ‘Glacier’ as a leaving song at the end of their shows. It’s a translucent corner piece, with a breezy pace and a catchy hook. When the rhythm reaches optimum speed, it becomes a hymn about the affirmation of life. And it can be quite a closer for a show. But beneath the blue waters of those upbeat sounds lies a song about despair, loss and leaving. “From the islands that we’ve crossed / We shake the water off / Like a silver glacier slowly shrinks away.” As the glaciers melt slowly – we might forget to weep their departure. But the consequences of their separation will remain with us forever.
‘Sleepless Streets’ is a patchwork of simple synth-based textures (pre-processed trumpets) and this track sets us up neatly for one of the stand-out numbers on the whole album: “Say Say” – This song is reminiscent of some of the Abba greatest hits. It has an organ line that wriggles around – gnawing at the lapels and cuffs of the song. And it has an immensely enjoyable chorus, with a thoroughly loveable verse. Alice’s voice is far more prominent on this track than any of the others, and this gives the song an even sunnier disposition than most. But, as usual, the words harbour dark thoughts. This time the song is about missing something in a relationship. About something being “Not quite right.’ And we all know that feeling.
‘Blackbeak’ is a tangle of guitar strings and purple bruisings. And ‘Forever’ was one of the first songs written for the album. It has more of an ‘urban’ feel to it than some of the other songs. It has crystal highs and stomach churning lows.
‘Live & Die’ will probably be the biggest club anthem from the LP. This has a techno feel to it. It is about gathering the strength and determination to carry on. “Gonna live and die along the way / Gonna reach up higher / Gonna feel the flames.” As an aspirational hymn – it probably couldn’t be any finer.
The album finishes with ‘Last Time’ – a prophetic revelation of what it may be like to see in “the end of time” together. The architecture is a ‘Wall of Sound’ and this creates an extravagant vision of wonder and magnificence. The military drums ricochet around the ‘trench’ lyrics, and saucepan lid synths shimmer and shake in the golden light. It’s as light and as diaphanous as a dragonfly wing. Yet as deep and as mineralized as a chug-water canyon.
WAKE UP captures the sunny side of mainstream pop in a way that will make all the people – all the young at heart – go and look for their Wayfarer’s, slap on their sun-screen, and slip on their flip flops. It’s an album that will make you dance. Make you celebrate.
But it’s also deep enough to help you think, help you ponder. And, ultimately, to help you feel alive. It is absolutely essential summer-time brilliance.
– © Neil_Mach July 2013 –
Avialable for pre-order here: https://itunes.apple.com/gb/album/wake-up/id648564258