Youth Group - Skeleton Jar (Cover Artwork)

Youth Group

Skeleton Jar (2005)


It's pretty typical now on the front cover of a new CD to find a quote from a magazine or some sort of relevant person who hyped the band's music to the record label's liking. Youth Group's Epitaph debut Skeleton Jar has such a sticker, but since I see so many of these stickers between my job at a CD store and this here CD review pile, I didn't even notice it. I put the CD on, and thought to myself, "this sounds like Death Cab For Cutie." So far, so good. Well, today I sit down to review the CD, and I begin taking a closer look at the liner notes and so on. Jumping out at me is the sticker on the front cover, a quote from none other than Chris Walla of Death Cab For Cutie telling me that if I don't love Youth Group, my heart is dead.

Well, isn't that a coincidence. Now, there's no other way I can approach Skeleton Jar than by holding them up to the Death Cab standard. In brief, I'd rather listen to Transatlanticism than this, but I'd take this over any of Death Cab's previous work. What feels wrong about all this is the fact that Epitaph bands are usually the standard-setters. Youth Group are firmly second class.

Second class or not, though, Skeleton Jar is some pretty solid stuff. From beginning to end, this album emits warmth and smart songwriting. There's a bit of a Weakerthans similarity in that regard, especially in the vocal style and on a jangly song like "Drowned." Where Youth Group still lag behind the heads of the class is in the pop sensibility department. They've got some hooks, but as a whole they aren't really convincing. Even the two most prominent tracks, "Shadowland" and "Skeleton Jar," are no real joy to sing along to. They're charming enough, but I'm not leaving with a strong impression.

It could very well be that this is one Epitaph band that's going to take an album or two to get really good. In the meantime, the best they can really do is hope they stand out as one of the better imitators.

[originally written for Punk International]