Young Guv - Ripe 4 Luv (Cover Artwork)
Staff Pick

Young Guv

Ripe 4 Luv (2015)


When John G. pitched Young Guv to the Punknews reviewers Facebook group, I was instantly intrigued. One of the guitarists of Fucked Up was moonlighting as an 80s pop songwriter? “I’ll take it!,” I commented on his post.

Ben Cook is the third guitarist of Fucked Up, being that he was the third to join the group, right before they launched into internet indie-stardom in 2008 with The Chemistry of Common Life. However, I’m sure people from Toronto knew him long before he joined F’d Up and blew the F up. He fronted his own punk band called No Warning in the early aughts, who were wooed by Fred Durst to sign with his label when he left a message on Cook's answering machine that ”used the words ‘hard’ and ‘phat’ verrrry liberally,” according to weekly Toronto arts paper NOW. Young Guv isn’t even his only 80s-loving project; he’s also got Yacht Club alongside another member of No Warning. Then there’s Marvelous Darlings and The Bitters. And oh yeah, he has ghostwritten songs for Taylor Swift, Kelly Clarkson, Maroon 5, Sum 41 and bunches more. This guy is busy, and probably more busy outside of the loud and crazy punk band we all know him for.

Young Guv is on Slumberland Records, a label I love, but I have a feeling many of you may not be familiar with them. Before I downloaded and listened to the album, on paper this surprised me since I knew him for harsh hardcore guitar tones but this is a label formed in the late 80s by members of ragtag lo-fi fuzzpop bands Black Tambourine and Velocity Girl from Baltimore. They specialize in twee/indie pop, and put out records that are shambling, reverb-dipped pop, jangle-pop and texture-heavy bedroom indie projects. But Young Guv fits right in. As “Crushing Sensation” kicks off with a chincy drum machine beat, intentionally-thin guitar tones and vocals that have more echo than you can throw a stick at, you realize Cook is taking you on a ride far, faaaaar away from the land of throat-shredding screaming and chugga-chuggas. Then chorus is ushered in by chiming keys and a crazy-good vocal hook. Love it.

What Young Guv reminds me most of is a band called Pop Zeus, which was the twee solo project of Michael Hodges, who was tragically killed in a motorcycle accident in Brooklyn four months ago. It made me happy to hear music this melodically positive, lyrically lovey-dovey and aesthetically-pleasing, as Pop Zeus will unfortunately end its tenure with only one album under the name. If you end up checking this out and like it, go check out Pop Zeus and buy it digitally (the cassette is sold out). I’m not sure and I’ll ask his family, but I bet the sales go to them now and can help recoup his funeral in a small way.

But I digress. Back to Ripe 4 Luv, what is essentially the title track, “Ripe for Love” is another hit. It’s got unbelievably-catchy melodies, sweet synths (including some backwards synths towards the end), toe-tapping real drums and a solid power pop guitar riff. Oh yeah, there is tons of Big Star love found here too. While the sound overall could be described as 80s jangle-pop, we’ve got hints of everything from early 70s Bowie and T Rex, to early-80s XTC to early-90s Vaselines and Beat Happening. Basically, everything I love in the world of poppy rock bands that keep it light and fun and avoid the aggro end of things. “Kelly I’m Not a Creep” is a perfect example of a power pop gem. “Crawling Back to You” starts with feedback and some harder drums, taking the song away from twee and towards glam. The guitar intro of “Living the Dream” twinkles brilliantly and would make Alex Chilton proud. “Aquarius” gets super 80s and lo-fi. Very cool. The only misstep is the closer. “Wrong Crowd” gets a bit 80s-easy listening with the reverby Kenny G-sounding sax solo and Peter Gabriel bass synth. It’s also about 4 minutes too long.

If my references in this review are favorites of yours, do yourself a favor and check this out. Obviously, don’t expect Fucked Up. Ripe 4 Luv will be a sleeper hit for many of you, I’m sure. I love being surprised by “new” acts through each new year, though Ben Cook has been writing pop hits for quite a while apparently. In a year full of solid reunion records (Sleater-Kinney, for one) and strong releases by veteran acts I love (Modest Mouse, Jeff Rosenstock, Murder By Death and The Decemberists), this will most definitely crack my top twenty of the year. How high is yet to be determined but I like this more and more with every listen.