Wiltshire native Gabby Young comes across alternately as a brash, smart-mouthed feminine answer to Morrissey, and as a tender, fragile chanteuse with a gift for teasing a complex tapestry of emotion out of her voice without sounding too highly strung.
Surrounded by her backing band Other Animals, all of whom are multi-instrumentalists, Young uses her debut album We’re All In This Together as a sonic palette, seeming at times like a musical Jackson Pollock, throwing sounds at the canvas to see what sticks.
We’re All In This Together ranges wildly from bawdy, sex-fueled cabaret (The Ones That Got Away) to tender acoustic carnival ballad (We’re All In This Together) to spooky, accordion-driven polka (Who’s House). Young’s backing band is something to behold, and throughout the album, the range of sonic experimentation – forms meeting, mingling and meandering, exploding and imploding like stars in a surrealist night sky, or alternately existing for art’s sake, like Dadaist urinals.
There’s no accounting for taste, and while some of it may seem over the top and wildly eccentric, Other Animals establish from the first stuttering swing measures of the album’s opener (Umm) that they are masters at work. The effect is best absorbed if you trust them to keep the tongue-in-cheek stuff interesting, and to keep the quirks coming from unexpected sources (a seemingly misplaced clarinet solo, or the wistful bray of a backing banjo are not uncommon).
Against such a reeling, inventive and disjointed backdrop, Young is presented with two options as a vocalist. Either her voice can serve as the gravitational pull that keeps everything earthbound, or it can become another twisted and unpredictable part of the circus show. And, thankfully, Young doesn’t play it safe.
There are some obvious Regina Spektor comparisons to be made, both in Young’s warbling, jazz-aged delivery, and in the general tone of the album, which plays on the same level as Spektor’s Far, but with a heightened sense of humour amid the bizarre verbosity. Young has a youthful playfulness to her voice and lyrics, and it works to some degree to lend an air of immediacy despite the seemingly untethered quality of the music. In Umm, she pseudo-scats, brimming with over-the-shoulder sultriness, “I blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, you. Dot, dot, dot.”
But she also carries a mournful cynicism, especially in the darker moments under the Other Animals big top. On the dragging, accordion-guitar number Too Young To Die she sings lazily – sounding especially like Morrissey‘s long lost time-travelling twin here: “I’ve had this foreboding about this for a long, long time. I don’t mean to seem morbid; I just wish I could be immortal.” Doom and gloom, perhaps, but the melody stays interesting even when the band seems to take a seat.
We’re All In This Together is bizarre, to be sure – at times too much so – but for the adventurous listener, Gabby Young’s debut full-length offers a whimsical glimpse into the past imperfect, through the hazy lens of a sun-washed wine bottle. Young’s is a kaleidoscopic world of gaudy spectacle and burlesque beguilement, and if you’re open to eccentricity bordering on downright weirdness, it’s a fun world to spend some time in.