Young Galaxy – Ultramarine

written by: May 11, 2013
Album-Art-for-Ulramarine-by-Young-Galaxy Release Date: April 23, 2013


Welcoming the warm spring weather are the mellow synths and nostalgic lyrics of Young Galaxy’s Ultramarine.

The band was formed in 2005 in Vancouver, Canada. It originated as a duo comprised of Stephen Ramsay and Catherine McCandless, but currently includes Mathew Shapiro on keys, Stephen Kamp on bass, and Andrea Silver on drums.

Ultramarine is Young Galaxy’s fourth studio album, produced by Swedish musician Dan Lissvik. The resulting sound is diverse in musical influence, but fails to make a statement.

The opening track, “Pretty Boy,” is light and dreamlike. McCandless sings defiantly, “We have no way/misfit and strayed/living beyond both means and pity.” The drums are a quiet tap beneath heavy piano chords that ring throughout the stereo field.

While the music is catchy, it doesn’t have guts. Its energy is drawn from its use of delay and reverb, not from the music itself.

The tracks that follow draw from a diverse musical background. “Fall for You,” for example, draws on afro-beat with its polyrythmic djembe drumming, while “Fever” pulls from ’80s pop bands like Talking Heads with McCandless singing in a low, David Byrne-like drawl. Yet the music lacks energy and drive. It’s music to be absorbed only passively.

There are points in the album, namely track six, “What We Want,” that hold more energy. The drumming is more prominent; the bass is choppy and funky. The vocals have gusto as McCandless sings, “I don’t need no reflection to see what I’ve become.” This track stands out, with its greater voice and fuller sound.

The back half of the album also has moments of brilliance. “In Fire” has brooding synth textures and whispered, seductive vocals, while “Privileged Poor” boasts a playful chorus with densely harmonized vocals and contrapuntal synth melodies.

On the other hand, “Out the Gate Backwards” has a jazz-pop piano line that whines above the bridges and chorus along with a ghostly synth, but on the whole, the track fails to speak with authority to its audience.

The closer, “Sleepwalk With Me,” is a slow ballad. McCandless sings expressively, “Look, here comes the sunrise/ come sleepwalk with me.”  The drums and bass are subdued, while the synth is reminiscent of Toto’s “Africa.” And while these elements are pleasant, they rarely shift. The song is nearly the same from start to finish, lulling its listeners into a numbed hypnosis.

The object of Ultramarine isn’t to entertain; it’s to entrance. Listeners are subjected to pleasant, inoffensive sounds from beginning to end.

The vocals are the strongest element of the music, but McCandless rarely lets loose or says anything deeply important. The drums, bass, and keys blend together into a nameless sound.

Young Galaxy doesn’t need to be a pop band. The music it’s making could easily be turned into something more exciting, a little less friendly and easy to digest.

A quick fix: Change the recording style. The band could choose to record in a lo-fi setting, or be concerned less with absolute cleanliness in general. This music could have an edge if it wanted one. While Ultramarine falls short of the mark, Young Galaxy could easily come back with a great record.

Young Galaxy – Ultramarine tracklist:

  1. “Pretty Boy”
  2. “Fall for You”
  3. “New Summer:
  4. “Fever”
  5. “Hard to Tell”
  6. “What We Want”
  7. “Out the Gate Backwards”
  8. “In Fire”
  9. “Privileged Poor”
  10. “Sleepwalk With Me”