Young Fox revitalizes ‘00s alt-rock
“Sky Beats Gold” avoids the cliches of their template with eerie ambience and southern grit. | Courtesy of youngfox.bandcamp.com
Young Fox’s “Sky Beats Gold” elevates a genre many dismiss as played out with spirited songwriting chops, believable emotion and the perfect amount of rustic rock-n-roll.
With self-proclaimed influence from Thrice, Sunny Day Real Estate and Hum, this Pittsburg four-piece has no problem with comparing itself to the giants of what many consider “those bands we loved in junior high” — because their delivery goes far beyond what anyone would expect from a straight up alt-rock band.
Opening track “Sometimes the Monsters Win” provides a sort of mission’s statement for the album. With a groovy riff as its backbone, growling bass lines commingle with meat-and-potatoes drumming. This unbreakable rhythm structure creates the perfect foundation for more ambient guitar lines and Luke Cypher’s powerful vocal lines. In fact, the only aspect of Young Fox that truly harkens back to the previous decade's wave of alt-rock becomes Cypher’s considerable high-end singing range. The instrumentals ride the line between grimy hard rock bash and placid cleanliness, which creates a dynamic palette not usually heard in this style.
Considering the relatively straightforward approach Young Fox takes, the chemistry between each member of the band becomes extremely important. Luckily, each musician brings something unique to the table, and plays off of everyone else’s creativity.
Callan Carnahan’s bass playing takes the cake as the unsung hero of this album. Whether taking more modulatory control on “Slow Burn” or beefing up the driving groove of “To Be Moving,” his distorted and earthy timbre simultaneously brings each song more punch and contributes to the melodic and harmonic sensibilities of each track. Listeners might not hear the entirety of what he contributes to the album on first listen, but paying attention to his playing will turn out surprisingly rewarding.
The percussion provided by Chris Hawthorne never strays too far from the norms of alt-rock, but what his beats lack in overt originality they make up for in tasteful dynamics and unwavering grooves. He also never overuses one specific approach. “The Desert” has a propulsive, highly syncopated six-eight feel, whereas his playing on “We Move as Waves” adopts an evolving post-rock structure. No matter what direction “Sky Beats Gold” goes, Hathorne sizes everything down to a strikingly primal foundation.
Guitarists Cypher and Martin “Marty” Lynn, known for his role as the bassist in influential metalcore band Zao, pool their respective influences into an interesting cocktail of aggression and scaled-back progression. Although differentiating who does what arrangement-wise between the two becomes difficult, Lynn’s background in extreme music presumably makes his playing a bit more rough around the edges. Similarly, Cypher’s accessible vocal melodies could cross over into his playing. “Sky Beats Gold” features a compelling cross section between low-end crunch and reverby lines. “Atom Smasher” and “Wine of Violence” exemplify this unique balance of heaviness and breathability, with the former’s upbeat power chord translating just as effectively as the latter’s somber crescendos.
Out of all the tracks on the album, “We Are Not the Wolves” and the first and second part of “Hearts of Men” encapsulate what makes this band a ray of light in the alt-rock scene. “Pt. 1” meshes every aspect of the band’s rhythmic and melodic tendencies together, resulting in a beautiful sonic collage. “Wolves,” essentially a long build-up, climaxes with muscular riffage and barrel-chested drumming held together by Cypher’s soaring melodies. However, “Pt. 2” brings the album to an epic and satisfying conclusion. Ethereal synth chimes and mournful singing make up almost half of the track, until an ultra-slow riff unexpectedly sends its emotional weight skyrocketing. It almost sounds like sludge metal until the drums up the tempo and cascading melodies bring the track into its concluding fade out.
While Young Fox set sail in waters well-tread, their tenacious musicality and distinct sonic overtones elevate “Sky Beats Gold” far above bands before and after them.