Album Review: The Young Folk – The Little Battle

By on Thursday, 29th May 2014 at 12:00 pm
 

Update 4 June 2014: The UK release date for ‘The Little Battle’ has been pushed back to the 8th of September. The album’s first single ‘Way Home’ is available now on iTunes.

The Little Battle album coverThe Young Folk are one of the most memorable bands I heard in Austin this year at SXSW 2014. Their unassuming style came as a breath of fresh air amidst the barrage of ‘folk-pop’ acts gracing the SXSW stages, and though they claim a variety of influences on their songwriting (listen to my interview with them here), their sound is frank and straightforward folk as it could possibly be. And, as delighted as I was by their vocal harmonies and high degree of technical prowess at the Full Irish Breakfast, it wasn’t until I listened to their debut album ‘The Little Battle’ that I fully realized the depth and subtlety in their songs.

I had my first real listen to ‘The Little Battle’ on my 12-hour drive home from Austin after a long week of festival coverage. Maybe it was due to the sheer exhaustion of several long days and short nights in a row, or maybe it was the inevitable post-gig depression (magnified ten-fold after a week at SXSW), but the understated lyrics and tender musical flourishes touched a chord in me that has continued to echo in the intervening weeks.

Opening track ‘My Friends’ took my mind immediately back to the new acquaintances I had made in Austin over the week of the festival, as well as the friends I was heading home to, who no doubt thought I was insane to take on SXSW in the first place. Frontman Anthony Furey’s distinctive halting lilt feels somehow familiar, even on this first track, and the vocal harmonies fall easily into place, allowing focus on the lyrics: “My friends, if they only understood what I’ve been at / My friends, they should know by now”.

The album’s first single ‘Way Home’ made for perfect road trip music. Percussionist Karl Hand’s driving drum beat supplies spirited motion under the lively guitar and violin melodies. The very first vocal line “Taking all of my time, and you gotta do right / Taking some of my lines and you made them into your own” brought an immediate smile to my face, and of course I found myself harmonising along with the irresistible chorus. (Watch the video and take a listen to the song here, if you haven’t already.)

The first little catch in my throat came during ‘I’ve Been Here Before’. The stripped back instrumentation of this song once again keeps the vocal lines clearly in focus. Furey’s Irish accent is quite conspicuous (note the rhyming pronunciation of “leather” and “better”) and the cadence of his vocal delivery a bit uneven, but the prevailing quality in his voice is its utter sincerity in conveying the emotion behind the reticent lyrics.

‘Way Down South’ is another emotionally pregnant narrative, its lyrics laced with touches of heartbreaking authenticity such as “I got dressed up in this suit which was novelty / And I’ll stay waiting”. The vocal harmonies in the coda are spot on, especially in the nostalgically repeated line “You’re gonna hurt yourself, come down from there, love”. (We featured the video for ‘Way Down South’ in the Irish installment of TGTF Guide to SXSW 2014 back in March.)

While all the songs on the album have a hint of melancholy about them, the heartrending track ‘Letters’ is the most effective in that regard; I had to pull over the car and compose myself as I drove through rain and tears in Houston. Paul Butler’s poignant lyrics and wistfully sweet singing voice is especially effective on the lines, “So I take on this road I love / Will you still be here when I get home?”, and the instrumental arrangement is flawless, particularly the use of xylophone over the piano melody to illustrate the childlike innocence suggested in the verses.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ThfRaZ5GO3c[/youtube]

The album takes an upturn with the short and sweet ‘Sad Day’ which, despite its title, is ironically one of its most energetic and upbeat tracks. ‘Remember When’ is darker, almost ominous in its haunting keyboard riff, and the vocal countermelodies at the end are exquisite. Closing track ‘Drunken Head / The Little Battle’ is bitterly raw, hitting its emotional target squarely with the lines, “Maybe things will get better and sweeter with age / But maybe not, in our case”.

‘The Little Battle’ is an album of intricacies, performed with appealing energy and confident style. The Young Folk haven’t gone out of their way to make their music more mainstream, depending instead on their keen musicianship and candid lyricism to carve a niche for their delicately crafted songs.

9/10

‘The Little Battle’, the Young Folk’s debut album, is now available in Ireland on Pixie Pace Records. It is due for release in the UK on the 8th of September.

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