Southern Californian band Young The Giant stepped into a new era this week with the release of their fourth LP, “Mirror Master.” The album constructs a new identity for the band by overstepping the boundaries of genre, each track a fusion of alternative, hip-hop, funk and electronic. The new sound is accompanied by a deeper look at inner life and an examination of the self; with “Mirror Master,” Young the Giant become experts of introspection.
In terms of thematic evolution, “Mirror Master” is an expression of both change and parallels. It has hints of the band’s self-titled debut “Young The Giant,” their sophomore album “Mind Over Matter” and their 2016 release “Home of the Strange.” Each share deeply evocative lyrics and sophisticated production, and much of “Mirror Master” can be contextualized in the realm of the band’s preceding work, but it holds its own thanks to a layered, cerebral approach.
— Young the Giant (@youngthegiant) October 12, 2018
The road to “Mirror Master” was one of evolution, but the album isn’t that distant from their first because the band changes and stays the same all at once. The debut album established the band’s beachy Californian roots, which influence their sound and lyricism; the music explores spirituality, desire, existentialism and nostalgia. These are themes that Young The Giant revisits throughout their repertoire, especially on “Mirror Master.”
“Superposition”: The best single off the album, with its twangy riff and winding synthesizer. The band talks physics here, waxing poetic about love and connection predetermined by the universe. After all, romance is science. “Why don’t we collide the spaces that divide us?”
“Heat of the Summer”: A hazy reminder of hot days spent singing along to the radio, lazing about, productivity calling and nobody answering. It’s got a squeaky, beachy sound and some really great work by bassist Payam Doostzadeh. If only this track had come out in July!
“Darkest Shade of Blue”: Something old, something new … and the darkest shade of blue. This song, the shortest on the album, plays like a luau lullaby, recalling songs from “Young The Giant” like Strings, Your Side and Islands. It’s the perfect tune for a mellow day by the coast.
“You + I”: A stripped-down love song that imagines the past, present and future, layering acoustic pluckings with some light piano. The verses are dreamy, but the chorus hints at an awakening: “You and I break out / Just a matter of time / There’s reason we don’t live forever.”
“Mind Over Matter” felt like a completely different experience during the first listen, as many sophomore albums do. It retained the beachiness of their first album but doubled down on production, giving the songs a bit more of a stylized, alternative edge, contrasting the stripped-down acoustics from “Young The Giant.”
“Mind Over Matter” offers a little more philosophy, a little more youth and uses inner life as fuel for outward expression. “Mirror Master” revisits a lot of the introspection first explored on “Mind Over Matter”; the main difference between these albums is that “Mind Over Matter” sought to transcend the questions it asks, whereas “Mirror Master” confronts them head on.
“Oblivion” is a killer track. It’s like a downward spiral that’s already deep underway by the time you notice it’s happening, so all you can do is let it consume you. “Nothing’s real / I really mean it / That’s the way I feel,” Gadhia croons, and for a second you’re right there with him, allowing yourself to be coaxed into a total loss of control.
“Call Me Back”: The premise of this track is relatively simple, but the minimalism suits it perfectly, pairing low-key deep house beats with melancholy longing for a missed connection. Each verse gets a new layer, making for a song with gradual, resonant depth.
“Panoramic Girl”: An album standout that combines hip-hop beats with Gadhia’s falsetto, balancing acoustic with synth so as not to overwhelm the delicate vocals. The lyrics dwell on fantasy, faded memories and bittersweet nostalgia: “You are just a memory that lives inside my dreams.”
“Simplify”: The album’s first single and most unabashed love song. The rousing guitar of the opening bars hints at a high energy piece of pop rock, and the band delivers; it vaguely reminds me of “Crystallized” from “Mind Over Matter,” though slightly less saccharine.
— Ryne (@RyneLBaker) October 12, 2018
There’s a line to be drawn between “Mirror Master” and its predecessor, “Home of the Strange.” The former looks inside the self, towards themes like love, memories and existentialism, and the latter looks outward, toward the American dream, identity and immigration.
“Home of the Strange” was released at an ideal time, in the fall of 2016; it was a sort of reckoning with an increasingly turbulent political climate. Now that this turbulence has reared its ugly head, the band has turned inward with the new release, exploring how people connect to themselves and others while retaining sonics they first introduced on “Home of the Strange.”
“Brother’s Keeper” somehow melds a funky sound with lyrics about loneliness and much-needed guidance, using solid bass work as foundation for the track. The verses sound like a guard is up, sheltering Gadhia away from the world, until he lets go and starts asking for help during the upbeat, hopeful chorus.
“Glory” is a sultry, mid-tempo meditation on spirituality and religion. It questions the danger of monotony and obligation with lines like “A piece of paper don’t fill dinner plates / All the things that make me hostage.” The best solution, it concludes, is to shut the world away and dream of something bigger and better.
“Tightrope”: A dance track! Funky and radio-worthy, but with hard-hitting lines similar to “Glory” about ignoring responsibility in favor of keeping your head up in the clouds. Curiously, it parallels “Call Me Back,” as both have the same first line — “When I was just a boy” — recalling youthful transgressions and naivety to make pop perfection.
“Mirror Master”: The title track is a banger, a throwback to “Anagram” from “Mind Over Matter” with its pop/alternative synthesis and shouty chorus. It’s also the final piece on the album, wrapping it up with a chorus that’s the equivalent of a musical mirror pep-talk: “You will be the chosen master / you will leave with the girl this time / you will be the leading actor / movie of your own design.” The optimism is infectious.
“Mirror Master” feels like a milestone for Young The Giant, as they tweak their identity as a band and explore their identities as individuals. It also feels like a natural addition to a repertoire that has, for the most part, been concerned with blurring musical lines and finding new ways to philosophize in the span of a few verses and a chorus. Every listen makes for a different experience as the lyrics, melody and overarching themes hit the light in new and interesting ways. As usual, I can’t wait to see what they do next.