Album Review: PAWS, “Youth Culture Forever”

 

First, apologies about the lack of consistent posts recently. It turns out that graduating college is a bit time-consuming. Here’s hoping we’re back to our regularly scheduled programming.

 

PAWS’ debut album Cokefloat! simply looks like a fun album—flowers, hearts, rainbows, and tie-dye adorn the album’s cover. And Cokefloat! really is a fun album—alt rock meets lo-fi meets pop-punk, and lyrics that, while at times immature, are nothing if not straightforward (how many times have I yelled “Get Bent” to no one in particular? Probably more than I care to admit; it’s remarkably cathartic). With the album art for various singles and 2012’s Misled Youth EP being similarly cartoonish and brightly-colored, it seems significant that 2014’s Youth Culture Forever (FatCat Records) opts instead for a black and white, real-life picture (is that fear in a handful of dust? YCF ‘s affinity for literary allusions has already been demonstrated in “Erreur Humaine,” presumably taken from Alexander Pope’s “An Essay On Criticism,” but I digress). Along with this visual evolution comes an aural one. PAWS seem to have embraced pop-punk hooks to a much greater extent than on Cokefloat!—three-fourths of the album induces toe-tapping, at the very least—and without sacrificing its appealing lo-fi quality, amps up its guitar game for a somewhat more mature sound. For instance, the 2-minute instrumental “Great Bear” is emotion electrified, guitars front and center, while the album closer “War Cry” boasts nearly ten minutes of the same, saying everything that the lyrics do not.

Despite the way the music itself reaches throughout the album, the lyrics are what tie everything together. On the first track, “Erreur Humaine,” Phillip Taylor stoically delivers what might seem the antithesis of “youth culture forever,” stating “just twenty-two and I feel like I’m through.” Indeed, this is the antithesis of “youth culture forever,” and it is the dynamic between these two ideals that the album struggles with throughout lyrics of messy young love (“Tongues,” “Someone New,” “Owl Talons Clenching My Heart”), self-doubt (“Alone,” and with a satirical wink in “Narcissist”), and maturity, however willing or unwilling (the stripped-down “YCF”). “War Cry,” the final track on the album, takes a similar tone to “YCF,” its predecessor—Taylor’s vocals echoing over a guitar. Unlike “YCF,” however, there’s no wistful hopefulness in “War Cry”—“This is the end / goodbye, you weren’t my friend” begins the nearly 12-minute track. The song takes a violent turn nearly a minute in, “Can’t see what I used to believe” followed by a crashing guitar and drum bit that is over as briefly as it started, and we return to the echoes of “I’m sick of being used  … won’t you hear my war cry? Suicide.” A pent-up scream, and the guitars come railing in again, this time to stay. The rest of the track is instrumental, and, like the rest of the album, there’s no reassurance that everything is going to be okay. The track descends into dissonant feedback, and then it’s over. The mention of suicide is unsettling, but given the rest of the album, we know a happy ending is too much to ask for. Somewhere within the remainder of the song, however, there’s a sense of power and determination to be found. Youth culture won’t last, and it probably won’t be okay, but we’ll face whatever comes.

The level of maturity found in Youth Culture Forever is befitting of the band’s sophomore album. They’ve grown up a bit since having sore tummies and yelling at their parents in Cokefloat!, and although Youth Culture Forever is by no means the pinnacle of adulthood, the acknowledgement that youth culture is not, in fact, forever is a hesitant step towards growing up. As Taylor sings in “Erreur Humaine,” “One can never go back and fuck with the past.” The only option, then, is to keep moving forward.

Rating: 4/5

Recommended Tracks: “Erreur Humaine,” “Give Up,” “YCF”

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