Young Galaxy is the creative confluence of kindred spirits, Stephen Ramsay and Catherine McCandless. They formed in Vancouver and moved to Montreal to live and to record their self-titled, debut album. It's an impressive entry point for a group at the beginning of their ascent. Call it a spark in the dry air of a sub-zero city or the child of a love of making music and of making music with the ones they love. Recorded with Jace Lasek (Besnard Lakes) at his Breakglass Studio in the summer of 2005 and spring of 2006, Young Galaxy has borne something concrete of something abstract and ephemeral. They have found a way back to a musical sensibility before rock was shattered into a thousand different aesthetic compromises. Young Galaxy have landed on the rarest musical alchemy and made of it an instant pop classic.
Review by Marisa Brown
In the new millennium, Canadian label Arts & Crafts has become a kind of hipster-fodder supplier, harboring artists like the Dears, Feist, Broken Social Scene, and Phoenix among others, so newbies Young Galaxy definitely have the necessary backing credentials to propel them into indie stardom. However, the band -- made up of ex-Stars touring guitarist Stephen Ramsay and his girlfriend Catherine McCandless, plus their backup musicians -- unfortunately don't offer much of their own musical innovation to make their self-titled full-length debut especially interesting, or even notable. Almost all the tracks on Young Galaxy rely on heavily-effected guitars, spacy keyboards, and echoey vocals to create the group's slow, warm, full sound (the exception is the out-of-place singer/songwriter-ish "Embers," one of two tracks sung predominantly by McCandless), but the band seems to be so focused on delaying and reverbing their chords and layering their voices that they forget that occasional key or tempo changes are necessary to make an album more than just atmospheric background. Neither Ramsay nor McCandless are particularly inspiring lyricists, and because of this they too often slip into simple rhymes and clichés. It's not like this in unavoidable; the Dears, for example, are able to combine drama and musicality, emotion and creativity, pushing towards the edge but never falling over it, but Young Galaxy neglect these things, and get so tied up in their own purpose, their own statement, that they forget the actual product has to be something truly worth listening to. The melodies are commonplace and remarkably similar to one another, and everything is so slow and dragging that it's hard to get through, it's hard to pay attention to, and it's hard to want to. Maybe Young Galaxy will form and define themselves in time, but until then, it's better to look elsewhere for stars.
[Arts & Crafts; 2007]
Before we get to what Young Galaxy are, we should talk about what they aren't. While the Canadian duo records for the Arts & Crafts label, they aren't really comparable to Broken Social Scene, the flagship band that all other A&C bands are weighed against. At first blush, Young Galaxy resembles BSS in some superficial ways: namely, their limpid production and cosmic melodies. But BSS's definitive qualities-- ramshackle energy and genre-bending curveballs-- do not factor into Young Galaxy's orderly dream-pop.
Neither is the duo, comprised of Stephen Ramsay and Catherine McCandless, the Stars side project they've often been touted to be. Ramsay was Stars' touring guitarist (a position he's vacated to focus on Young Galaxy), not a permanent fixture or songwriter in the band. If you come to Young Galaxy expecting a Stars record, you will be disappointed-- they work in muted pastels, not blinding neon; they're deliberate where Stars are immediate. Their most obvious influences are the deep-space arrangements of Slowdive and the watery melodies of Luna, although their penchant for poppy hooks renders them more similar to Long Island's Joy Zipper than either of these.
If all this parsing of influences seems a little tedious, this is apt-- Young Galaxy's polite style is itself a little tedious. Their record is as hard to get worked up about as it is easy to like. This mild tedium is most apparent on the more rock-oriented tracks, which don't play to Young Galaxy's talent for atmosphere-building and make the vocals sound generic. So despite its supernova guitars and some memorable lyrics ("You won't get out of this world alive," Ramsay sings with benevolent certainty), "No Matter How Hard You Try" doesn't make a big impression. The rockers aren't bad, but they make Young Galaxy sound interchangeable with about a million other totally fine but unexceptional indie rock bands.
Ramsay and McCandless fare much better when they hew closer to classic shoegaze, with tidally lapping organs and blissful harmonies. On their best songs, they slowly build towering armatures around uplifting vocal refrains. "Swing Your Heartache" is excellent: Coasting in on a watery hum, it gains amplitude at a leisurely pace, soaring in a way that feels hard-earned by the end. "The Sun's Coming Up and My Plane's Going Down" has the same sense of expansive drift; it's spacious and billowing, orbiting its central melody rather than slamming it home with guitars. Appropriately, orbiting seems to be key for Young Galaxy-- they sound fine when they're direct, but they sound great when they're oblique, letting their melodic themes gradually unfurl via a procession of oceanic keys, saccharine harmonies, and the judicious flash of heat-lightning guitar.
-Brian Howe, April 04, 2007