Chalk this one up to pretense.
The highly anticipated sophomore follow-up to Young the Giant’s juggernaut self-titled debut is a mixed bag of awkwardness, superfluous breathiness and more brain-wracking lyrics. Plenty might find album opener “Slow Dive,” gorgeous and inviting but really it’s a waste of 40 seconds that serves no purpose. Ditto for the punchy “Anagram,” which has a cheery chorus and a sun-drenched vibe but does very little on repeat listens. Sure, there’s moments of prettiness and the song does have its share of pleasant moments but it lingers for far too long and is only rescued by Sameer Gadhia’s otherworldly vocals. First single “It’s About Time” is even more confused as it seems to stretch the band into a genre they’re not well suited for. Equal parts garage-pop and avant-garde indie, it sounds way too much like a band trying too hard.
The band seems to find their groove on the gorgeous “Crystallized,” an open-hearted, keys-laden ballad that is the first moment when the band recaptures their previous glories. The languorous title track follows and dresses itself up with a wash of synths, chiming guitars and a cottony veneer that feels far too gussied up. In this four minute wave of mid-tempo moodiness, the band once again appear to be channeling something they are not. The album’s first half concludes with the ringing “Daydreamer,” and the brilliant “Firelight.”
The former is an an accessible, urgent and taut stew of wide-eyed hopefulness that finds Gadhia channeling Lord knows who. In terms of pacing, the song serves itself well but does little to keep the listener wanting to come back for more. On the contrary, “Firelight” is a beacon. A supple acoustic affair that quivers and whimpers with defeat, despair and despondence. Though it does linger far longer than it should there’s a simplicity in its understatement and one of a select few moments on the album’s first half that feels genuine.
The latter half of Mind Over Matter opens with “Camera,” a track the band debuted more than two years ago. Spellbinding, enveloping and nothing short of stunning, the song has a presence and a rhythm that points to just how vastly talented these five Cali dudes are. When they want to give you their best, there are few as compelling as them and “Camera” is a prime example of that. “In My Home” is one of the only songs on Mind Over Matter that revisits the dizzying heights of their ubiquitous self-titled and seems destined to be a crowd-pleaser.
“Eros” is another fiery effort that revisits the sonic histrionics of “It’s About Time” but dives deeper. There’s a kinesis at work that gives the back half more life and finds the band artfully jamming for the song’s final minute. While it can be argued that the song probably should have been higher on the track listing, it’s still an inspired effort from an album desperately in need of inspiration. The band sort of finds itself in the tenacious and spiky “Teachers,” a husky cut of aggression that is certain to speak to those burdened by those feeling beaten down and haggard. Penultimate cut “Waves” attempts for Brit-rock yearning but falls short while album closer “Paralysis” is arguably one of the album’s strongest and a much-needed rescue for an album that has its share of glaring flaws.
Sophomore slumps are nothing new and certainly there are plenty who will find favor with this album. But the band’s ability to mix balladry with antic energy feels somewhat askew here. The album feels too pretty, too overproduced, too nuanced and well, like a band with their head too far up their collective asses. Sophomore albums always find bands trying too hard, struggling to live up to their magnum opus and Mind Over Matter has all the hallmarks of exactly that. The band is immensely talented and knows exactly what they’re doing, so there’s little reason to think the band won’t rescue themselves on their next effort. For now, we’ll see how this one shakes out, pretense and all.