There’s a certain mindset that people love to adopt whenever a band changes in sound that it’s been done for no other reason than to reap as much success as possible from as wide an audience as possible. Given the recent epidemic of rock bands transitioning to lazy electro-pop it would be easy to jump on that same notion too, but honestly it’s rarely the case. It can be anything from the well running dry on a current sound that can only be galvanised by moving to another genre, to simply the desire to try something new away from the norm. But when it comes to a band who don’t have an established audience yet, the fingers take even less time to point, with the automatic accusation being a sellout move to circumvent the harsher side of the music industry.
That can certainly be an argument towards Norwich’s Youth Killed It, and their transition to their current guise from Under The Influence. Moving from politically-charged, electro-tinged rap-metal akin to Enter Shikari to jaunty, Don Broco-esque lad rock doesn’t seem like a natural career move, particularly when the only similarity comes in Jack Murphy’s rapping. But that’s not to say it doesn’t work. Youth Killed It may be a completely different prospect to their former incarnation, and debut full-length Modern Bollotics may seem like an unashamed plea for indie-rock acceptance, but when it’s as lighthearted and enjoyable as this is, does it really matter?
If anything, this might even be a better fit for them, with the swaggering bounce of Murphy’s flow balancing well with the clean, light instrumentation in the same way as early Jamie T. It’s a lot lighter in tone lyrically as well, moving away from more political topics to an area where Murphy’s worries now consist of getting time off work to tour ((Jean Claude) Van Mann), making money from shows with limited business acumen (Soul Trader) and dealing with those around him who say that music isn’t a viable career option (Popstar). It’s all ground that has been trodden on countless times before, and the mid-album couplet of Fudge and You Don’t Know just refuses to connect, but there’s a bright-eyed wonder to Youth Killed It that makes it joy to hear. Murphy’s supreme earnestness has a lot to do with it too, from the corny but undeniably sweet dedication to his girlfriend on Lads In Love (which takes a flow from Gym Class Heroes’ Cupid’s Chokehold that sounds really good), to the acoustic closer Thanks For Coming, where he makes it the slow song that will have a chance of succeeding to keep his mother from worrying, as well as thanking his bandmates for sticking with him and putting up with his shortcomings. It’s a moment of real humanity that adds a new layer to what Youth Killed It do, and dispels any notion of them being a two-dimensional, ‘lads on tour’-style band.
Just judging them on the actual music, though, would probably say otherwise. It’s not bad by any means, deeply entrenched in mainstream-friendly 2000s indie, but it feels as though it doesn’t do justice to the band’s more realistic, straight-laced take on songwriting. It can feel a bit thin and lacking in variety to fully eke out any real benefits. That said, Youth Killed It clearly have an ear for some excellent earworm melodies, and there are points and flourishes even in the instrumentation that do the same. The guitar licks on What Happened? sound like they’ve been lifted straight from the soundtrack to The Inbetweeners, and the louder, more staccato riffs of (Jean Claude) Van Mann and Popstar at least have a bit more staying power than what can been seen as the very basics.
Even then though, Youth Killed It feel like something of an acquired taste, especially considering the massive rift between them and their former incarnation. There are times when Modern Bollotics can feel a bit too broad for its own good, and as though it’s lacking in some of the real rock fire that they could’ve definitely benefited from. Nevertheless, coming away from a scene that previously left them behind has seen Youth Killed It become a supremely entertaining band with a debut that fully follows suit. The trade-off between deep insight and something lighter and more relatable feels earned here, and forms the basis of a reinvention that’s already proving to be more than solid.
For fans of: Jamie T, Arctic Monkeys, The LaFontaines
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘Modern Bollotics’ by Youth Killed It is released on 12th May on Rude Records.