Young Man – ‘Beyond Was All Around Me’

“Though the final installment of the Young Man trilogy may be the closing of a chapter for Colin Caulfield and company, the book still has much to be written, as we will most assuredly see the student become the teacher through future works.”

Rhett Shirley

out of 10

young man
Beyond Was All Around Me
April 9th, 2013

As of late, the world of indie music has shown great affinity and love for airy, atmospheric compositions laden with honest, although sometimes cryptic, lyrics. The sound falls for me somewhere between minimalist shoe-gaze and full out, Baroque driven experimental psychedelia. Reverb all around, hair pin turns in tempo and emotion, and resolutions that range from sweeping, cinematic string arrangements to the simplistic finality of metronome-like snare cracks.

This boundless structure has been the playground for finite musical project Young Man, born in the dorm room of Colin Caulfield at Loyola University in 2009. While studying French and English he molded his own sound amidst emulating and exploring the sounds and approaches of groups such as Deerhunter, Atlas Sound, Panda Bear, and Beach House.

The project sets out to chronicle the emotional journey of a boy through his college years and early twenties, and at times during the trilogy you can clearly hear Colin forcefully trying to escape a younger, earlier sound. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. Colin worked alone, sometimes exclusively from his dorm room, for the first album, Ideas of Distance,  a collection of works that are hauntingly honest and introspective, albeit vague and seemingly under developed at times. He crawled out of his lonely room for the project’s second full length attempt, the snarkily named Vol. 1, this time with backing from a full band.

This final installment, Beyond Was All Around Me, sports a more mature and polished feel, with production reminiscent of the late Beatles ‘studio only’ sessions. The soundscapes and sonic sculptures Caulfield has long been seeking to successfully translate from mind to matter come to fruition in vivid detail.

I gave this album three initial experimental spins. One ‘couch session’, once among a group at a dinner party, and a third ‘deeper listen’. All three scenarios yielded different opinions and outcomes. My first statement is one of gratitude. This album actually plays and listens like just that. An album. It is not by any means single driven and filled with fodder. It is a thoughtfully constructed compilation that has a well defined, introduction, middle, and resolution with natural, organic flow that knows just when to really snag the listener by the ear or heart.

The album opens with “It’s Alright”, a tune that casts the imagery of cloudy, weightless dreamscapes, but with lyrics like “I’m alright, just in too deep”, its easy to picture our protagonist calmly floating deeper into a watery abyss, as the distant sunlight refracts through the ever darkening blue. This admission of mental pressure and occasional transcendence and clarity is a theme explored across multiple tracks.

By the time we’ve reached the third track, “In Time”, I’m firmly settled in and my ears are open. Leading off with an urgent, driving cadence evoking the stresses and pressure of the passage of time, one can feel and hear the sand hissing through the hourglass. Colin’s lyrics acknowledge that youth is slipping away, and he wonders if there is there is more to life than the rat race. Memories of cramming for tests, working dead end jobs, watching the clock, and living on the terms of others flash to the fore front. Anxiety. Stress. Tension. Then just as we have resolved to this tempo, this pace of existence, Caulfield pitches us off a cliff into a cavernous state of comfort. The rest of the piece drifts through a psychedelic haze that positively reeks of Pink Floyd, in a good way. One wonders if this is symbolic of a sudden state of clarity, or simply the carelessness of youth allowing a moment of escapism. The scenery here is reminiscent of lingering in the simple luxuries of a late Autumn day with a lover, lost in the moment. Everything is both familiar and foreign, but all is right.

“In a Sense” leads of with driving rimshots and halting vocals project a sharpness discordant with the resolution of  “In Time”. There’s tones of anger and hurt, with maybe a bit of self loathing and shame peppered in for good measure. Colin openly admits to spending “another wasted afternoon, spent alone in thought, forgiving you, making me admit my mistakes.” Yikes. One has to wonder if this is the same girl my mind had painted him escaping the formalities of life with in the previous song. Ever increasing horns and percussion add roundness to the overall grayness of the song, and help it transform the tone from resent to acceptance and growth. This one ends on an instrumental high note that brings early Animal Collective to mind.

Young Man

To me it seems as though “Scrape on The Knee” was meant to serve mostly as a transitional piece. To say that it is lacking would be untrue, but although it clocks in at almost four minutes long, it moves fast and is almost gone before you knew it was there. Hard driving drums and carnival synths give way to a breakdown that sounds to me like something James Maynard would construct. It’s most certainly different than anything we’ve heard up to this point. For most of the song, the vocals take a backseat to looping guitars and relentless percussion. It’s an introspective number with emphasis on keeping one’s struggles in perspective with the big picture.

Bright, yet melancholy solo rifts invoke solitude and quiet moments of reflection during a time spent away from home and familiarity during the introduction for “Being Alone”. Gritty guitars a la Neil Young transition the focus from a lonely college boy, to a young man who is growing comfortable in his skin, and now finds inspiration in his past.

“Waterford” is a very mature feeling song, loaded with metaphor and symbolism, whether it be intentional or not. Opening images are those of passively gazing at crystal in an old cabinet, reflecting on ones past. Caulfield’s lyrics, accompanied by mounting strings and baroque induced vibes that build in a swirling crescendo, explore the mind’s perspective on events that occurred in the past and how they have led him to where he is now. Time and emotion have a distorting, prismatic effect on memories, and you can hear Caulfield reflecting on both his own experiences, and the impending conclusion of a chapter in his musical career. The symphonic, late Beatles like production recedes and the song concludes with a sense of peace, acceptance, and resolution.

Horns and strings that would be just as at home on a selection from Sgt. Pepper’s lay the groundwork for what may be the best ‘all around’ track on the album, “School”. It’s very well balanced, and ties all of the different production we’ve heard till now together. There’s gritty, over driven guitar riffs juxtaposed with methodically simple, yet effective single string plucking. Grand pianos and stratospheric synthesizers. Everything melds together to give the track immense depth and a very big feel. Not to mention, Caulfield’s voice positively soars here. Mature indeed.

Though the final installment of the Young Man trilogy may be the closing of a chapter for Colin Caulfield and company, the book still has much to be written, as we will most assuredly see the student become the teacher through future works. Caulfield’s timeless songwriting, progressive approach, and apparent ability to surround himself with boundless talent ensure that we haven’t heard the last from him.

All in all, this album is great for straight through listening with quality headphones, on a long drive on a nice day, or through a set of nice home speakers. Admittedly, the melodies can become repetitive at times, but there are enough surprise elements and production tricks in there to keep it interesting. During two separate instances, I’ve heard people call it background music. I was mildly offended each time.

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