At the start of summer 2022, it is impossible for me to write about anything without the shadow of the pandemic distorting the picture, even if just a little. Usually it is for the worse, but every now and then something pops up that shows some positive fallout of the quarantined life we were all living, to varying degrees, for the past two years. One such example is that Young Guv just released their second album in three months; GUV III and GUV IV, both culled from a fortuitous collection of songs born out of the unplanned interruption of their 2020 US tour.
After finding himself hunkered down with his bandmates in the New Mexico desert, Ben Cook (aka Young Guv) did what songwriters do, he wrote songs. When the two-week shutdown turned into a nine-month layover, he ended up with a plethora of songs to take into the studio, thus providing us with the slightest of a silver lining to the global lockdown. However, as time wore on Cook admitted that the situation, although idyllic, also came with new difficulties. He states on his label’s website, “I was isolated, the world was in complete chaos. I lost control of the routine that I thrive in. I worked on songs more randomly, only when I felt like it. I was hard on myself for not writing enough. Truthfully, I don’t even remember doing most of it. I was removed from the process, in a way, somehow alienated from my own creativity.” It would seem that now with the second album released from this very fertile and surreal setting, it may turn out to be a blessing in hindsight, for both Young Guv and their fans.
The bread and butter of this band has always been the power pop hooks and jangle, and both of those are here in spades. Likewise, the themes of love and loss are similar on both III and IV, but this album feels darker in tone. The album artwork seems to hint at this as well, with it being identical save for one of the flower petals that make up the pupil of the eye, falling to give the impression of a single tear. Clearly a companion piece to III, IV finds the band exploring new sonic landscapes, with the first song acting as the perfect bridge to the previous album. “Too Far Gone” sounds like classic Young Guv with its sundrenched melody and jangly guitars. It is quickly followed up by “Change Your Mind” which also is reminiscent of past songs but after repeated listening of the album, it seems to me like it is the gateway into further reaches, places that the band had alluded to in the past, but were now going to completely delve into.
Style shifting should come as no surprise to anyone who has followed Cook’s career, both as a solo artist and with bands like Fucked Up and Marvelous Darlings. He is not merely dabbling in different styles, but allowing the muse to lead the songs where they need to go. “Sign of God”, “Overcome” and “Love Me Don’t Leave Me” is an excellent three-song run that lets you know this is a curious band ready to take the listener on a journey. All three of them could fit nicely onto a Paisley Underground compilation or be mistaken for Stones Roses outtakes, with the swirling neo-psychedelic tinge. Each uses auxiliary instruments – saxophone, steel guitar, hanging chimes – to provide more textures which allow the band’s sound to expand. “Maybe I Should Luv Somebody Else” tumbles the band into some honky tonk bar, full of that Bakersfield Sound that Gram Parsons melded with rock n roll in his work with The Byrds and The Flying Burrito Brothers. It also points to the influence of frequent collaborator James Matthew VII, who is listed as co-producer while also adding guitars, vocals, bass and harp throughout the album. “Cry 2 Sleep”, “Helium”, “Nervous Around You” and “Nowhere At All” again bring in the Los Angeles 80’s neo-psychedelia but blend it with electro-pop grooves that create a wonderful potpourri of sounds that feel like summer. The album closes with the beautifully sad ballad, “Wind In My Blood” that leaves the door open for hope.
Although the setting for the creation of this album, and its predecessor, was not a chosen path, but a creative way to deal with the world brought to its knees, it proves that in our darkest moments art will still spring forth. It also proves that Ben Cook has placed himself amongst the best songwriters going. Certainly the entire process took its toll on him and he has admitted to needing a break from music, but I look forward to hearing more from Young Guv once that much-earned break is over. In the meantime we have another album to help soundtrack the summer and bring us out of the dreariness of the past two years.
Purchase by IV Young Guv HERE
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