If “post-rock” as a genre classification draws mental associations of seven-minute instrumental arrangements, raucous guitar squalls and cinematic shifts in dynamics, Youth League’s self-given “post-pop” descriptor is fitting. Comprised of Mike Large on guitar, Zach Large on drums and Jafar Castillon-Martinez on bass, the Durham trio released “Second EP” on July 21, 2017 via North Carolina’s own Cardigan Records.
Expanding on the thematic groundwork laid on 2015’s “First EP,” Youth League returns with another six songs in a similar yet refined vein. Unlike many of their post-rock contemporaries, Youth League consistently maintains song lengths under three or four minutes, jumping straight into the energy apex that a typical post-rock arrangement would spend half the song working toward, then finding a way to build further. In that regard, the band provides an immediately palatable serving of the best aspects of the genre without drowning in its more cumbersome components.
A prototypical Youth League song, the instrumental opener of “Second EP,” “Eat Trash Be Free,” begins with a straightforward, tension-building backbeat before looped layers of tapped guitar staccatos pile up over a mounting drum-and-bass groove.
Just as the song makes its destination apparent, the drums, bass and cocktail of guitar loops all cut out, leaving a single wavering guitar part to dangle on its own for a few brief counts before the rest of the band storms back to barrage the composition to its triumphant conclusion.
While “Second EP” has quantitatively more singing than “First EP,” Mike Large still deploys his high-throated shouts sparingly across the songs, often choosing to let an effect-laden guitar occupy the sonic space a vocal line would claim, as in the climax of the EP’s closer, “D-,” or during the beginning of “Who Remembers Who Cares.” On other songs like “Stay Lame” and “Two-Car Garage,” Mike opts instead for multiple octave layers of the same vocal melody or full-fledged gang vocals in “Who Remembers Who Cares.” When they are present, the sung melodies on “Second EP” rarely repeat, if at all—an intentional songwriting decision shifting a listener’s focus to the already captivating momentum and sheer energy of the respective instrumental performances.
Producer Aslan Freeman pristinely captures Zach Large’s emphatic drumming, another integral component of Youth League’s sound. Zach’s drum parts are compelling and fresh, but still controlled and complimentary, carefully building with the respective dynamics of each song and unleashing at the right moments. Castillon-Martinez’s lightly overdriven bass lines, often tasked with the responsibility of maintaining root notes on songs like “Eat Trash Be Free” or “Stay Lame” while Zach loops two-handed tapping passages, still find ample opportunity for tasteful embellishment on “D-” and “Who Remembers Who Cares.”
“Second EP” is an engaging and refreshing listen for those unfamiliar with Youth League and a gratifying installment for the fans that “First EP” won. After a few listens, both groups are sure to come away hoping the band won’t take too long with a third.