erasing clouds

The Young Tradition, Northern Drive

reviewed by dave heaton

The Young Tradition's two members may live far apart, but they look up at the same sun and moon. For their debut full-length Northern Drive, the music was recorded in Sweden, home to instrumentalist Erik Hanspers, while the vocals were recorded in singer Brent Kenji's home of San Francsico. Two places, two types of weather, and indeed the songs on the album display a near-obsession with weather phenomena.

On Northern Drive, the weather is linked to feelings. "I see no reason to get up today / snow has already covered my way to you," Kenji sings on one track. "The only thing I want to see is the sun shine through your hair," he sings on another. The album's dominant theme is sadness and memory the memories of what once was, or what could have been. The weather serves as a reminder of what is, its idealized version an image of what life could have been. There's a continual love-hate relationship with the sun, the air, the stars, symbols of romance but also of passing time, and the changes that inevitably accompany it.

The Young Tradition relies on an array of guitars, horns, strings, organs, and woodwinds to create gorgeous orchestral pop, conjuring up thoughts of the Left Banke, the Zombies, the Byrds, and Belle & Sebastian. It's so appropriate a musical style for such an album, as bittersweet and fixated on time and place as it is. Who could hear the album's opening, Nick Drake-like guitar and not be filled with emotion, not to mention filled with thoughts of Autumn, or perhaps Spring? The musical atmosphere created by Hanspers and friends throughout the album is gentle yet enveloping and absolutely riveting the melancholy yet also bright sounds evoke multiple seasons, and the feelings each of us associates with each. Kenji's vocals are just as gentle and riveting, his voice soft yet filled with quiet passion.

"California sun beats heavy in the air / but there's nothing left to wish that I was there," Kenji sings on "California Morning," the album's first single. It's a moment where awareness peaks through the clouds, the awareness that things will still be sad, no matter the weather. The sense of loss will be overwhelming even if the sun is shining, maybe even more so. As the album nears its end, there seems to be a certain sense of hopefulness, especially in the lovely beats and synth of "Endlessly." Northern Drive's last track, though, is mostly marked by awareness that things will never be the same, and that we're powerless. "I find that time is too much for me to defeat," the line goes, over that beautiful, aching, timeless, Nick Drake-like guitar.


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