I’m reminded of this partly because I turn 27 in a few weeks and can’t figure out why most of my traits resemble those of a 40-year-old man, but also because of two albums that hit my speakers this past week.
One of these, The Young’s debut, Voyagers of Legend, will go largely unnoticed by the music-consuming public, while the other—Deerhunter’s Halcyon Digest— will be praised by a much larger number.
Both deal candidly with aging, but the difference is how each band approaches the topic. Do we lament the loss of youth or learn to look back on it fondly while staying optimistic about the future?
Considering the fickle nature of music fans, there isn’t always that much to look forward to. One day the performer is filled with vigor, the next they’re drained of life as the mob looks for someone fresher and younger from whom to suckle.
Whether they realize it or not, the listener essentially looks to the artist as a fountain of youthful exuberance to be culled in three- to four-minute bursts until the well runs dry.
These days, this parasitic behavior largely applies to teeny superstars like Miley Cyrus and Justin Bieber. Or, in the case of perennial rock stars—U2, Madonna and The Rolling Stones, for example—there’s enough money around to prop the performers up and have them imitate actual human movements.
But if there’s not many around to leech off an artist’s output, does that mean they’ll fare better in the long run?
For The Young, an Austin, Texas-based outfit with little notoriety aside from an appearance on Matador Records’ Casual Victim Pile compilation earlier this year, I hope that’s the case, even if the band doesn’t seem to think so.
Growing older seems to be the source of endless frustration for The Young, but their coping mechanism is simple: Write raging, impassioned songs about how dreams slowly die with age.
By doing this five times on the first side of Voyagers, they stake a claim as one of the most promising guitar bands in years, echoing a strain of perfectly disheveled pop buried under layers of grime. If a group were ever capable of sounding fragile and tough at the same time,
The Young have nailed it.
Looking to their precedents in Guided By Voices, The Replacements and Archers of Loaf—all bands who weren’t excessively popular during their heydays— time will treat their music kindly; the output of these other groups has aged impeccably.
The Young showcase the kind of urgency that can come only from a band that’s probably too jaded to think they have much of a career ahead, but Deerhunter sound like they’re secure enough in their upward trajectory to take natural steps toward adulthood.
Just six years ago, they unofficially titled their debut album Tuit Up, Faggot. Their latest record might as well be the work of an entirely different group. And instead of bemoaning the loss of their youth, they embrace a new-found maturity, exploring the past while looking positively toward the future.
And when 28-year-old vocalist Bradford Cox sings, “When you were young / and your excitement’s shown / But as time goes by / is it outgrown?” on “Desire Lines,” he doesn’t offer an answer, probably because there isn’t one.
Truth is, the reason a lot of us still obsess about music is that we’re trying to travel back in time to get another taste of those brief, youthful years before responsibility and skepticism got in the way.
Maybe we can take some of The Young’s fire and some of Deerhunter’s pragmatism to craft age-defying cocktails unique to each of our needs. If not, well, we can always just settle for being the “old guy” at the show.