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Young Galaxy, ‘Ultramarine’ – Album Review

In February, the worst thing happened to Young Galaxy in relation to their then-unheard fourth LP, ‘Ultramarine:’ Peaking Lights released a remix of lead track ‘Pretty Boy.’

Unless you’re an avid Young Galaxy fan, it’s likely you missed the debut of the straight-up album version, which the Québécois five-piece had made available a month earlier. The remix was more visible, thanks to a “Best New Track” branding from Pitchfork, and it unfortunately provided an unfair impression of the record that was to come.

The remix is just too good. Peaking Lights essentially set the bar to unreachable heights with their vibrant, kinetic take on ‘Pretty Boy,’ and ‘Ultramarine’ plays like an album that, lost in an unexpected shadow, never stood a chance.

Given that ‘Ultramarine’ begins with Young Galaxy’s deflated-by-comparison mix of ‘Pretty Boy,’ the album’s opening is the equivalent to ‘The Wizard of Oz’ before Dorothy leaves Kansas. We, the audience, know that technicolor dancing marvels should be in our sights, but we’re confined to Kansas without explanation as to why. It’s not impossible to get past this, as Kansas has its merits, but as the album progresses, the sensation of general disappointment continues.

Complicating the listener’s relationship with the material is the fact that Young Galaxy are now a full-fledged indie-pop outlet, with their shoegaze inception a pre-revolution detail that has been expunged from acknowledged history. Stephen Ramsay and Catherine McCandless don’t lack the ability to craft hooks, nor do they suffer from the kinds of taste or competency issues that might prevent them from succeeding in this genre. But the project now seems plays like the product of the uninspired Satellite Radio successes that peddle accessible mediocrity as lifestyle music — songs that, ironically, are less suited to soundtracking people’s lives than to accompanying television shows and providing background listening in public spaces that display an ideal of youthful but sophisticated taste.

Now, this is not exactly what Young Galaxy comes off as, but they are much closer to that than they are to the class of their chosen sound. They never approach the “Peaking Lights immediacy” we long for, and the album’s best moments, like the playing-card shuffle of ‘What We Want,’ the Cocteau Twins-style twinkling of ‘Sleepwalk With Me’ and the half-hearted primitive electronica of ‘Fall For You’ all work best when separated from the herd. Even then, the tracks are unambitious and easy in their appeal. With no shortage of music similar to Young Galaxy (CHVRCHES, Austra, Grimes, Passion Pit and so many more), finding reasons to return to ‘Ultramarine’ is more challenging than any of the songs, and ‘New Summer’ provides the only affecting moments on the album.

With a fresh angle, a bit of urgency and some legitimate emotion and inspiration, each song on ‘Ultramarine’ could conceivably succeed in the same way ‘Pretty Boy’ does, and that says something about the songs at their core. But until the remix album arrives, Peaking Lights’ unintentionally damaging track will have to suffice as representation of what listeners want to hear, and what they should require.

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