Adam Young – Elementary Carnival Blues

After over a decade in the wilderness, Adam Young returns to the public eye with an alarmingly good album.

Last seen in the 90s with grunge guitar bands the Daisygrinders and Big Heavy Stuff, here Young cut his teeth on distorted guitars and the soft/loud riffing excursions de jour. After the timely collapse of Nirvana, Silverchair and Enya put paid to that era, he was resigned to a decade and a half of mainstream employment, desultory gigging and the slow accumulation of new material.
But as a Canadian by birth he was unable to keep the demons of country music out of his head and in exile, Young embraced them. The songs that started to take root were steeped in alt-country impressionism as much as REM’s outlandish architecture and the fuzzy guitars that survived the demise of smacked out flanno coutre. Bush tours with hick, shouty singers such as Den Hanrahan furnished stories and hardened his resolve.
Sensing something spectral looming, Young engaged a team of crack musicians and producers to harness the poltergeists. The result is a hard-wired simulacrum of contemporary country rock. The cinematic pedal steel and electric guitars of Jason Walker provide the panoramas that bassist/producer Mike Rix saw as the only things big enough to house Young’s vision. With Jeff Mercer also contributing guitars and the likes of Corrina Steel and Emma Swift harmonizing on Young’s paeans, Rix had a broad palette to work with.
Thus we have a fine collection of songs whose velveteen textures only wanted the gloss finish of Kate Brianna’s charming pipes. Her duets with Young are a regular feature of live sets and burnish his pocket ouvre with authentic mid-West chic.
They thrive on gaunt, enigmatic lyrics. ‘Ghost Songs’ is a standout. Bouyed by a simple, irresistible melody, it dances over jaunty countrified licks, anchored to an aching refrain; “leave a light on for an old friend”. ‘Queen of the Plains’ and Breeza occupy the same haunted stratosphere, sparse haikus leaving plenty of room for a majestic vision to unfold between your ears. ‘Wolfe Island Blues’ echoes in the room long after the albums over.
Though they easily ride the current insatiable thirst for Americana, these songs would have found a home in late 80s alternative rock charts or as no-wave dirge anthems. They stand up to the dazzling production and work hard on Young’s increasingly frequent solo outings. Indeed his solo shows demonstrate why these songs, lithe and muscular, stand out in a hi-sheen recording. Quite simply, they’re terrific ballads. Springsteen himself would stand up on somebody’s coffee table and bellow something incomprehensible about ‘em.
Youngy is back from the wilderness and he’s had a shower.

On Stanley Records

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