Monday, May 21, 2007

youthmovies at the great escape

Hard to know how to categorise Youthmovies without using a surge of hyphens; if I was looking to construct something out of all the familiar labels I might go for something like avant-jazz-prog-mathcore-pop, or something similarly pretentions and meaningless. So let's not bother with that, and we'll talk about the feelings they provoke.

1. Annoyance: perhaps this is only a problem if you aspire to be a good musician yourself, but watching a band who make extraordinary musical proficiency look effortless is bound to induce a little ill-will. Why can't this furiously good guitarist lose a finger in a threshing machine, I uncharitably wonder, as he unleashes a sequences of dazzling notes with such clarity and speed. How dare this violinist, who has never even rehearsed with Youthmovies before, play so instinctively and easily. Hmph. Well, technically, then, Youthmovies win the weekend prize for dazzling musicianship.

2. So Admiration naturally follows. Not only do they play well, they repeatedly set themselves challenges, each song full of stylistic and melodic about-faces, weird time signatures and moments of disciplined chaos. They're never content with sitting still, so one band member is variously employed, in the course of a single song, with playing trumpet solos, hammering out filthy keyboard riffs and conducting the string section. The singer, whose technical dexterity has already been admired, is a small, shy type who plays with a lop-sided hair cut and a slim grin. He doesn't put a foot wrong, despite the many twists and turns of the music.

3. Familiarity. Although they're undoubtedly out of step with prevailing trends, there's much to recognise in Youthmovies' sound. The guitars churn with all the controlled fury of DC hardcore, the cherubic vocals remind me of Thom Yorke's, the trumpets of NOU's unusual orchestration. There's more than a hint of Yes's epic prog rock, and that isn't as bad a thing as you might think. All the same, they manage to sound unlike all the other bands at the festival while not seeming entirely original. That's not to detract from the fact that they're interesting though.

4. Fatigue. We left a song before they finished. I meant no disrespect, and indeed enjoyed their set, but after half an hour of furrow-browed, complex rock it's hard not to feel a little worn down - every element of their sound demands attention and there are few moments of calm or release. That may sound like an odd complaint, and unappreciative of their quickness and grace, but by the time the set was winding down I was ready for some more straightforward pop music.

Still, a fascinating proposition, if not actually fun.