For the past four years I’ve followed a rather strange rule with this blog that if the release date for a particular album precedes the time that I come across it by more than a month, I won’t write about it, even if I enjoy it. It’s a stunted way of thinking that I most likely adopted when first learning how to run a blog and how incredibly continuous and relentless the music world really is for everyone involved – how it truly doesn’t wait for anyone, how one week elapsed after an particular album’s release honestly feels more like ten now that we’re in the terrifyingly greedy age of the internet. This then weirdly led to an internal fear more than anything – I always had the thought that no one would want to read what I had to say about something that was released so long ago, when both professional critics as well as devoted fans have already had a go at it.
But I’ve realized – especially over this past year, where I’ve taken more time to dive just a little deeper into the world of independent music and simply spend more time writing and researching – that this is, quite frankly, an incredibly stupid, nonsensical rule, one that essentially defeats the purpose of keeping a music blog in the first place. The purpose of kid with a vinyl ultimately isn’t to show off my writing or to blindly go with the ebb and flow of the ongoing music timeline for the purpose of ensuring that I have a place within it. Ultimately, and I hope this will always be the case, the purpose of this blog at the end of the day is to try, to the best of my ability, to help showcase and support those independent bands and artists that truly deserve to be recognized for their continuous hard work and the art they create as a direct result of it – and, considering art is perpetual and everlasting, it shouldn’t matter when it’s put on display, especially when the messages conveyed within it are still incredibly relevant, still able to bring a sense of calm to whoever’s listening – which, honestly, is what all the albums that will eventually be in this series have been for me: a source of peace. I’m not at all a perfect writer and I still have so, so much to learn – about everything, really – but I truly hope I’ve stuck to this promise for all the artists that have been featured on KWAV thus far.
I’ve been wanting to do this series for a while now, and every so often I find myself adding to the growing list of albums currently on the back burner – albums that have either grown on me since they were first released, those that I simply missed the first time around, or those that I’ve found actually have extensive backstories and narratives that deserve a longer review than the one I’ve already posted. So why not just start now?
I’ve chosen Vansire’s April release Angel Youth to start off the series mainly because it’s been on my mind ever since they released their newest single “That I Miss You” last month, which is also admittedly how I found out about the Minnesota dream pop duo in the first place. What I didn’t fully realize about the single at the time was how incredibly different in tone it was from both this full length as well as the EP that preceded it by a year, nor was I aware of the fact that members Sam Winemiller and Josh Augustin have actually had this project for more than three. No, as time went by since first hearing it, I couldn’t stand to only talk about this individual track when it was ultimately borne from the trials and tribulations of creating these two albums, the result of their consistent, focused collaboration – and, now that I’ve taken the time to listen to Angel Youth in full over the past few weeks, I can honestly say it’s one of the most beautifully complex and thoughtful albums I’ve ever had the pleasure of hearing.
I’ve always been a person that pays attention to the way artists choose to structure their track listings in order to give their listeners the best possible experience, and part of the initial overall beauty of Angel Youth is that it more than takes this into consideration – it possesses a remarkable sense of fluidity, a beautifully subtle electric current coursing through its seventeen tracks despite the inclusion of so many different techniques and styles, including everything from bedroom pop to jazz (the trumpet solo in “KW” from Kyle Matthees is not to be missed), even at times minimalist compositions any Steve Reich fan would immediately fall in love with. None fight viciously for your attention – instead they work together seamlessly, emitting a sense of peace and quiescence even in its most complex, emotional moments, impressive considering the duo recorded, mixed, and mastered everything on their own (with the exception of Winemiller’s brother Issac on bass for a handful of tracks) in just under a year.
It’s also interesting to note how about half of the album features another artist in some way: this includes “Nice To See You Again,” an expansive, atmospheric duet featuring gorgeous additional vocals from Felicia Sekundiak of FLOOR CRY, the short, sweet fever dream “Précis,” which features stunning, echoed vocals from Aaron Powell of Fog Lake, as well as the sharp, jagged R&B stunner “Star Catcher,” featuring confident, piercing verses from Chester Watson. However, I admit that it is “Lonely Zone” – featuring Mellow Fellow, Ruru, and Paul Cherry – that remains my favorite in this particular category, mainly due to its remarkable production and use of texture during each contributors part, endlessly swirling equal amounts of infatuation and desperation, the desire to act but also with self-consciousness to hesitate each time.
Ultimately, however, Winemiller and Augustin are at their very best when they work to each other’s strengths, to the point where they act as one fluid body: the textured, lo-fi openers “Reflection Nos. 3 & 4” and “Synth Man” work where you can’t tell where one ends and the other begins – the former perhaps acting as a dual continuation of EP The Rolling, Driftless North as well as an attempt at bridging the gap between dream pop and synth for the tracks to come, the last couplet of the latter, in hindsight, feeling remarkably like a thesis statement for the album: “A cryptic message/ On how your heart feels/ ‘Cause sometimes the art heals.”
In this vein, with the deeper listens over the past few weeks, Angel Youth became, for me at least, a testament on the more vulnerable parts of the human condition: how we respond when we’re truly alone with our incessant thoughts, how we process our own pains differently, choosing to find solace in other people as well as the creative mediums of music, film, and art, perhaps the latter more than the former for a certain few. A delicate mix of vivid imagery and deep introspection, the continuous narrative is expressed through Augustin’s highly evocative, truly brilliant songwriting, something that I referred to as an “intellectual’s dream” in my previous post on Vansire. I still stand by that statement wholeheartedly, with nearly every track on Angel Youth a direct example of it, both in word choice, references, and phrasing alike. Unfortunately, I can’t discuss them all here, unless you’d like this article to never end, but I can, however, strongly and eagerly urge you to listen all the way through while reading them at least once.
For my English degree I once studied the concept of the “romantic outsider” finding solace in literature and art – a realm where he also finds a place within and becomes successful – but nevertheless still remains detached from the world, disappointed in its unforgiving, impatient nature, its vanity and materialism. I keep coming back to singles “Halcyon Age” as well as the title track due to this very idea, tracks where I feel Augustin is at his most genuine, somehow simultaneously expelling and absorbing both enamored and self-conscious observations of himself as well as the world in which he exists. “Halcyon Age” has Augustin discussing the work of a few musical icons – beloved Texas musician Daniel Johnston as well as 20th century composers John Cage and Karlheinz Stockhausen – in relation to his own work as a musician, further explaining how he perhaps often times lacks a sense of validation for his work as well as being misunderstood for it, leading to a painful sense of disillusionment (“Does that mean it’s done in vain/ If no one really cares/ I’m back to acting strange”), admitting in a stark tone before glimmering synth and bouncy, playful guitar melodies that “I guess it’s what happens when the music’s a respite/ the world is so appalling and you come to detest it.” It’s something I really related with as a writer, attempting to perpetually find beauty in things even when they’re painful and representative of how unfair the world really is.
But it is the absolutely stunning “Brown Study” that I feel truly stands apart from the rest due to Augustin’s attempt to slyly and subtly distance himself from this pure intellect for just a moment, instead choosing to simply and completely indulge in his own melancholy – fitting, given the name of the track, which refers to a moment of thought so intense and realized that you begin to lose sense of the world around you, and ironically, by extension both logic and reason. This comes out especially well in perhaps one of my favorite stanzas in the entirety of the album, where he delivers a perfectly rhymed monologue on the brink of dissolving into his own thoughts, succumbing to the less organized feelings of infatuation: “Pardon my semantics/ It’s somewhat pedantic/ But your outline against the Atlantic/ Well it’s idyllic and highly romantic.” The synth glimmers and shines, the guitar consistent and unyielding in order to support his yearning desires.
Admittedly, I could probably sit here for days trying to fully understand this album, but I have this sharp, piercing feeling in my side that I never will, at least not completely. However, there is something inexplicable about this album that truly brings me a sense of peace despite this realization, on another level the strong feeling that maybe, just maybe, I’m not alone in my perpetual love and inclination towards the idea and experience of emotion, of attempting to make sense of myself, the world, of life, even if, especially if, that means experiencing it at its most complex moments.
photo courtesy of artist