What happens when you find yourself living in the Home of the Strange?
When our ancestors of old came across oceans, seas, mountains, and countless other obstacles to be members of mother America, what faced them upon their arrival? Were they greeted with kindness? Acceptance? Opportunity? These are definitely the romanticized historic facts we hope for. What about the modern day immigrant? What are they faced with? Well, if you were to take Young the Giant’s word for it, it would be that they are met with an identity crisis of sorts.
Before you disregard this, some things in the Home of the Strange, YTG’s 3rd studio album, must be clarified. First off, the message they preach, or the information they divulge, is not overtly blatant or spiteful. But more on that later. Secondly, while our goal is to talk about some of the content and thematic material of the album, it would be a crime to disregard the musical aspect. The reason being because it is quite possibly the best album of 2016 I’ve had the privilege of listening to thus far.
Let me start by saying, this album may not grab you automatically, it didn’t for me either. Rather it will be a slow process realizing that the simple, yet mature musical ballads, sounds, and beats are each honed into their absolute finest potential in nearly each and every song. With the indie/pop/rock band displaying how each song is able to compliment the next. What is also obvious is that Young the Giant has decided to stretch themselves from their already respectable music style seen in previous albums. They never get comfortable with a particular sound nor genre (reminiscent of my favorite group, Onerepublic). Lead singer Sameer Gadhia likewise uses his vocals as an incredibly balanced display of both impressive new limits, as well as restrained dignity. Listen to the enchanting slow burner Titus is Born, the Gospel-esqu/80’s anthem medley of Something to Believe In, the easy listening and funky Silvertongue, the beautiful and nostalgic Art Exhibit (borderline soundtrack ready), and even the dark and exotic sounds in Nothing’s Over, and just try and tell me this isn’t one of the freshest, endlessly intriguing, and most captivating albums in quite a while.
Now, what about those lyrics? While not overly complicated on the surface, Home of The Strange alludes to a much fuller maze of social and personal struggles that could be translated in many forms. One thing that is not so difficult to read is the skepticism in what many of us like to refer to as the “American Dream.” While the patriot in myself might wanna cast aside any such ill thoughts, it would be a shame to disregard the viewpoint of these young men who come from largely diverse backgrounds and experiences. While being rather successful in what they do, it is no secret that this hope of happiness that our land promises doesn’t come easily to those from foreign territories, nor for those born in poverty. While this land gives much opportunity to those of success, it begs the rest to ponder “I am mad because I don’t know what you used me for” (appropriately found in the opening track, Amerika). This seems to be the mindset heading into this complex album…
Now, unlike other groups or singers who have had similar vexed attitudes seen in their albums, YTG decides to start looking at how such social truths transcend to the everyday individual, rather than just blaming and pointing fingers at a specific group or class. We see that the frustrating setup of our system starts to weigh us down when it comes to our approach and understanding of love, as seen in the song Elsewhere (as a side note, it also utters the phrase, “love is not a choice” – though no LGBT reference is ever made). In Jungle Youth, we see that this leads to a society whose only obsession is power and control, and how nothing less will ever satisfy. In the fun and ambitious Mr. Know It All (the only song with a curse word, which unfortunately happens to be an F-Bomb, though it is muffled/hard to hear), we see an interesting take on how society has led us to be disconnected from one another. This appears to be largely due to our “social media” mentality, where we are forced to hide behind what we present on our network profiles. Titus Was Born seems to be the life tale of one such individual who faces similar obstacles, it might also appear that the album could be Titus’ very own life story.
Since these difficulties abound, it is no wonder that songs such as Repeat shows the need to give tireless, and sometimes thankless work when it comes to the challenges that will approach us. So, like I said, this album seems to beg some questions, if not answers, to what we as a society have done to ourselves. Have we become so lost in our surroundings, our society, and the material and self-fulfilling lusts that we have lost our identities to some degree? Are we stripped of what gives us life and purpose? Not all songs deal with such musings. Others, like Art Exhibit (one of my favorites) and Nothing’s Over seem to deal with typical love/love lost tunes that are rather familiar, and Silvertongue is an unapologetic fun/party song (which might have a bit of an overly rowdy attitude, and a suggestive/alcoholic phrase or two – but it is mostly harmless). But as an overall message, these threads are the questions Young the Giant asks of us. Is it all fair? Are we disconnecting ourselves? Are we wasting away? It can be a bit somber. As we know, when it comes to life without God; life is lifeless, empty, and identity-less (Ecclesiastes – whole book – 1:2). As an entering immigrant, or someone who many expect to fall short, it can be a more difficult challenge to overcome. But, as is seen in my favorite track, Something to Believe In, we see that even with such obstacles willing to tear him down, Gadhia and Co. are willing to surprise all and overcome such odds. Not such a bad viewpoint when you have that kind of ambition.
In closing, I think I’ve made my point. I loved this album. While I am proud of the country and the freedoms I have, there is no denying it can be an uphill battle for some. This is a perspective I’m not overly familiar with, but one I will also strive to sympathize with. While the album as a whole takes a listen or two to appreciate. It also has an issue or two; one being that it is muddied down by an occurrence of the F-word, a suggestive phrase or two, plus just for the fact I am not keen on the title track Home of the Strange. But disregarding a handful of issues, this album is stellar. With a perfect mixture of addictive ballads and engrossing lyrics, Young The Giant has made Home of the Strange a sure fine place to be, if not to live.
9/10 – P.S. check out the “In The Open” versions of their tracks on Youtube, they are mesmerizing!