Youth, Nashville quintet Wild Cub’s debut album, was released in their homeland way back in January 2013 and it now finally gets a major label release in the UK over 18 months later. Largely penned by film score composer, songwriter and guitarist Keegan DeWitt along with other main protagonist, multi-instrumentalist Jeremy Bullock, the collection is an eclectic mix of heady, funky electropop, or “inventive, left of centre alt-pop” as the promotional waffle declares. DeWitt has been quick to point to bands such as The xx for inspiration as well as Vampire Weekend, who they have previously supported as well as being big fans of, and there are similarities, but Wild Cub often find themselves in an ‘80s disco groove.
Apparently written for the late night drive home, many of the tracks were inspired by DeWitt’s desired lifestyle; since his wife and child came along the focus has changed, with a follow-up album already being worked on as the new environment sets him off in a different direction. But for Youth, where many songs were constructed around drum parts and loops, the subject matter remains fairly consistent.
The first single, Thunder Clatter, was nabbed for a commercial and it’s easy to see why. A handclapping beat, light jangly percussion and electronica precede one of the most infectious guitar lines you’re likely to hear, not too unlike another band the boys have supported – The 1975. Colour is another catchy single: classic electro-pop percussion – almost techno – forms the canvas as DeWitt paints his lyrical picture around a repetitive, simple guitar line and subtle, pummelling bass. With the singles coming in at tracks two and three respectively – following opener Shapeless, an intriguing track that features rapid shuffling percussion, staccato synths and gentle keyboard melodies – the band set quite a bar for the remainder of the album.
What follows has varying results. Straight No Turns has an enjoyable funky dance vibe complete with dated, cheesy keyboard sounds and Chic-like guitar riffs. Wishing Well continues the trend, sounding a little too Scritti Politti for comfort during its intro, another relentless guitar line then driving the track forward alongside ‘80s soundtrack drum rolls. The Water is a much slower, sparse effort of synth waves and distinct guitar tones recalling The Cure from their Disintegration period, as does Drive.
Hidden In The Night is more reedy electro-pop with another ‘80s feel but sounds too unoriginal, whilst Jonti bounces along in jolly fashion with reliance on piano and unusual pipe sounding synths. Wild Light then takes on a white reggae feel amongst a thin soundscape – think Typically Tropical rather than UB40 – before Summer Fires Hidden Spells borrows the bouncy synth from Visage’s epic Fade To Grey and doubles its speed alongside tin-pot percussion for another average effort that fails to thrill.
The atmospheric Windows is better although there are some more of those dreadfully dated ‘80s film soundtrack drum rolls. Blacktide’s tinkly synths marry with a bassline that recalls legendary (ex)New Order bassist Peter Hook alongside shaking percussion for another fairly decent retro cut before Lies closes the 15 strong collection in up tempo style, but it sounds a little frantic and overblown.
There is little doubt that DeWitt is a talented individual but his desire to pursue a band career as opposed to a film score path could do with a little less reliance on clear ‘80s soundtrack references. With Thunder Clatter and Colour being obvious frontrunners in the ‘best song’ stakes, coming so early the remainder of the album suffers and the lack of other massively addictive tracks is telling. Once the irritatingly catchy melodies have passed through a love/hate relationship though, to the point where they may start to annoy, there is sadly not enough left to warrant a long lifespan for Youth.