Young Hunter, Young Hunter: Nights in the Void (Plus Track Premiere)


[Click play above to stream Young Hunter’s “Another Night on the Western Front.” Young Hunter is out March 20.]

It has been a tumultuous few years for Young Hunter. Originally based in Arizona, the band released their first full-length, Stone Tools (discussed here), in 2012, following-up a 2011 two-songer, Children of a Hungry World, that began to explore their themes of contemporary environmental issues, latent social commentary, and emotional exploration, a young band feeling their way through the (hungry) world around them. The subsequent 2013 three-song EP, Embers at the Foot of Dark Mountain (review here), was issued as a split tape with folk experimentalists Ohioan, and greatly pushed their sound forward into a heavy, almost gothic Americana, spacious and dramatic and geared for maximum impact.

Following that release, guitarist/vocalist Benjamin Blake moved himself (and, by extension, the band) to Portland, Oregon, and completely rebuilt the lineup to feature keyboardist/vocalist Sara Pinnell, guitarist Erik Wells, bassist Sam Dean and drummer Grant Pierce on their Adam Pike-recorded self-titled sophomore outing, which feels like as much of a debut as their debut ever did. Pressed by the band and comprising five tracks totaling 41 minutes, it is a richly atmospheric and contemplative collection, flowing smoothly across varied compositions that feed an overarching atmosphere not manic as was the last EP, but firmly in control of purpose and aesthetic. It’s heavy when it wants to be. It’s sparse when it wants to be. Its spaces are as vast as Young Hunter wants to make them, and each song adds something memorable to the proceedings, whether it’s the almost Ghostly riff of centerpiece “This War,” or the vocal and handclap chorus of “Another Night on the Western Front” before it. No coincidence the album is self-titled. This is Young Hunter, after half a decade, marking their arrival as themselves.

Sonically, one might say these tracks build on what the prior incarnation of the band accomplished on Embers at the Foot of Dark Mountain, but the tones and the process feel smoother, Blake‘s vocals are more assured alongside Pinnell, and the fact that it’s a completely different lineup of the band is of course a consideration. Nonetheless, as the airy lead guitar enters to top the slow initial lumbering of opener “Nothing Shakes the Void” (premiered here), it has a familiar sense of melancholy that is decidedly Young Hunter‘s own. So be it. The song moves into a nighttime ’80s chug and call and response between Pinnell and Blake for the verse, Pierce‘s forward drumming having a swing all the same en route to the sweeping chorus and back around again with a solo along the way. After the second chorus, on which Blake pushes his voice into gruffer territory, they break to a quiet line of guitar and vocal duet, gradually joined by the drums before a final crashout that leads to the nodding open of “Another Night on the Western Front,” a start-stop instrumental hook establishing itself early before the first verse, which brings Pinnell to the fore, delivering the title line as the first of the song and giving the setting where the track, perhaps the album as a whole, is taking place as the snare and handclaps march together.

young hunter (Photo by Mike Grippi)

Pinnell soars in the chorus as one of the album’s most effective vocal parts, backing harmonies only enhancing the atmosphere before the track shifts back to its initial riff and opens wide with an echoey, desert-hued lead in its midsection. Another verse and chorus cycle through toward drum thud, sparse notes, clapping and a few final lines, and “Another Night on the Western Front” gives way directly to “This War,” which ends side A on a rolling groove, arguably the most riff-based track on the record. Blake takes the front position for the verse, thick-toned double-guitar progressing with some urgency, and Pinnell joins for the hook, more straightforward perhaps than “Nothing Shakes the Void” or “Another Night on the Western Front,” but no less effective atmospherically. A highlight solo follows a second runthrough and bridge, and a final chorus serves as the finale, which is a shift from the first two tracks and well suited to the overall vibe of “This War,” which brims with purpose as much as the title might lead one to believe.

Though it keeps its sense of patience in composition in common with its surroundings, it’s also easy to read a heightened sense of urgency across the eight-minute “After Death” at the start of side B. Both it and 11-minute closer “Pyramid Schemes” have a more insistent feel than some of the flowing grooves of “Another Night on the Western Front” and “This War,” but the severity suits Young Hunter. “After Death” begins with echoing guitar lines but soon crashes to life with a marching build, dropping out for its verse and surging forward again along what’s ultimately a linear path with peaks and valleys along the way, Dean making his presence felt behind Blake and Pinnell in the midsection verse, which telegraphs its return to crash-led intensity but is no less satisfying for that, stopping for turns of guitar but rolling through an apex, chilling out for a progressive solo, and pushing ahead to finish out, structure less of a concern than hitting hard. That feeds well going into “Pyramid Schemes” as well, which starts along a similar highway-stretch of guitar, meditating there with effects for complement, the dual vocals easing in just before the two-minute mark and running through a verse before the song bursts to full-tone thrust at 3:14, Blake taking the next verse and moving to a harder shout as it plays out, answered by a swinging rhythm and guitar transition.

Just past halfway through, guitars and bass rumble out as the snare sets the foundation for the album’s last build, Pinnell this time taking the fore vocally and guiding the band through the next couple minutes of subtle construction, the album’s most resonant melodic lead arriving after atmospheric vocals with particularly psychedelic fervor, a mounting swirl that kicks into a few measures of more earthbound riffing — honestly, they could’ve gotten another three minutes out of that progression easily, but the album has to end at some point — and finish out the exploration in unassuming fashion. As a kind of second debut, Young Hunter‘s Young Hunter offers a sense of musical identity well solidified to carry the band’s name, but as those final stretches of “Pyramid Schemes” show, the band still has ground they want to discover creatively. As each of their releases has carried elements of its predecessors while also taking bold strides forward — also the occasional geographic swap — I’d expect no less from them next time around, and if the ultimate story of Young Hunter is to be that their own hunt is ongoing, their self-titled is a formidable landmark along their path.

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