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Young Guv - GUV II Music Album Reviews

On a new double album from his indie-pop project, Fucked Up guitarist Ben Cook cycles through dozens of styles without losing sight of the primacy of the song.

There are lots of reasons to release a double album, whether it’s to accommodate a rock opera, showcase discrete aesthetics, or spotlight the contributions of principal members. And then there’s the more prosaic rationale: You’ve simply written too many uncuttable songs. That’s the situation Ben Cook found himself in when he relocated from his Toronto hometown to Brooklyn in 2017 to devote more time to Young Guv—the solo guise he assumes when he’s not fronting hardcore scrappers No Warning or playing guitar for art-punk visionaries Fucked Up. On his own, Cook has indulged his love of pop music in all its forms, evoking both Robert Pollard’s human-jukebox acumen and Ariel Pink’s sense of mischief. These days, Cook is also mirroring their prodigious productivity: Young Guv’s most recent work was originally envisioned as a 20-song album, before Cook’s new label home, Run for Cover, convinced him to spread 17 of them over two separate releases, Use Your Illusion-style.


Last August’s GUV I shone a bright light on Cook’s power-pop skills, presenting eight songs that basked in the eternal afterglow of Chris Bell-era Big Star and all the great Teenage Fanclub tunes cast in their image. GUV II, by contrast, treats that pristine sound not as an end goal but as a springboard into a collection that’s far more adventurous. You can sense the shift about three minutes into the opening “She’s A Fantasy,” when the song’s radiant Byrdsian shimmer slowly dissolves into an extended psychedelic fadeout awash in smeared harmonies and clanging percussion, as if to provide an instant snapshot of rock ‘n’ roll’s mid-’60s shift from innocence to transgression.

From there, GUV II cycles through dramatically different styles—from sleek ‘80s dance-pop to lo-fi chillwave balladry—like an indecisive H&M shopper who’s rolled the entire sales rack into the change room. But the whiplash is diminished by the fact that Cook essentially traffics in one kind of song—the sort of doe-eyed, lovestruck laments that sound just as urgent and aching when couched in a Matthew Sweet bubble-grunge rave-up (“Try Not to Hang on So Hard”) as in an acoustic-plucked yacht-rock reverie set adrift on waves of Kaputt-ian sax (“Caught Lookin’”).

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Cook’s mercurial, childlike voice can recall Gene Ween’s more winsome turns, but his flights of fancy are rarely delivered with a wink or smirk. As an artist who came of age amid the stylistic rigidity of hardcore, Cook nails the fine points of genre (see: the silken organ tones of ’70s soul-pop throwback “Can I Luv U in My Own Way,” or the liquid funk guitars of the dreamy, Toro y Moi-worthy jam “Trying to Decide”). But he also understands that genre, and the factionalized identities we build around them, are ultimately secondary to the sanctity of the song. And on GUV II, no song is more blessed than “Can I Just Call U,” a hit of Lemonheads-flavored alt-candy that peaks with a swoon-inducing surge of overlapping choruses (featuring guest vocalist Aurora Shields in the Juliana Hatfield role). Though its title is written in text-speak, “Can I Just Call U” finds Cook longing to hear his paramour’s actual voice over the phone—“The way you make the words sound, the silence in between, and the fading of a scene.” He’s hardly the first artist to bemoan a life spent “looking at a screen,” but that sort of sentiment puts the rest of the record into stark relief: like the Luddite lover pining for old-school communication in a digital world, GUV II is the sound of a pop classicist forging his own singular path in a post-everything era.


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