Skyscraper Magazine » Young Galaxy
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Paper Bag
Format: CD / LP / Digital
Release Date: February 8, 2011
By Michael Snyder July 28, 2011

Shapeshifting is an apt choice for the title of this Vancouver band’s winning third platter.  Young Galaxy has transmogrified from stripe-shirted shoegazing wallflowers to suave and sophisticated synth-poppers in the time in between their second and third albums.  Young Galaxy’s influences have seemingly shifted from Slowdive and Mogwai to Everything But the Girl and The Blue Nile.  The lovely second track, “Surely the Angels Are Weeping,” recalls the wistful, bright-eyed pop of Paddy McAlloon’s Prefab Sprout.  Perhaps alluding to the third album by The Fixx (1984), “Phantoms” is a slick and disco-friendly number that recalls Simple Minds’ new wave hit “Promised You a Miracle.”

The range of synth-pop Young Galaxy evokes is not generally that of the more primitive early 1980s, but rather it is more like British mid- or late-1980s acts in their use of sweeping synthesizer atmospherics.  Shapeshifting recalls another third album that took a similar path from shoegaze roots, Rocinate by Ester Drang (Jade Tree, 2006), which likewise moved into smoother, groove-oriented sonic territory.  The core duo of Stephen Ramsay (guitars, vocals) and Catherine McCandless (keyboards, vocals), joined by multi-instrumentalist Max Henry, seem to draw not simply from “hip” post-punk influences like New Order but also more mainstream 1980s synth-pop acts, such as Nik Kershaw (“Wouldn’t It Be Good”), The Human League, Erasure, and The Eurythmics (“Here Comes the Rain”).  The poppiness comes to an apex in “B.S.E.” (standing for “black swan event”), the chorus of which, no fooling, recalls the 1980s hit “Rhythm of the Night” by DeBarge – amazingly without making one want to skip to the next track. McCandless’ vocals are strong and emotive, a real standout on the album.  She seems to have honed her vocal prowess and delivers melodic lines with more panache, sensuality, and emotional focus than previously.

Shapeshifting was produced by Dan Lissvik of the Swedish electronic act Studio, and having worked with the material in isolation for several months, he seems to be a major force in the change of style shown here.  By rights, Shapeshifting ought to move these Canucks from cult fandom to a broader audience.  They did not lack for critical recognition previously, having been nominated for Canada’s 2010 Polaris Music Prize for their previous album Invisible Republic (Paper Bag, 2009), but Shapeshifting’s appealing  aural environments should expand their profile and fan base. While the record may be too “pop” for some, it is smart, well-executed, and creates enchanting atmospheres via nuanced and expansive production.

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