Sophomore efforts can make or break a musician. Oftentimes, a band will get caught in the abyss commonly known as “sophomore slump,” never to be heard from again-at least not at the same volume as they came roaring in at. Young the Giant can be said to have established a nice niche in the indie/alternative rock community, with its singles being played on national radio and breaking into the Billboard Charts. With Mind Over Matter, the band is not necessarily making any innovative moves, but instead is edging its way into a more mainstream wavelength.
Overall, the album strays from the indie sound of the band’s self-titled debut, the songs packing a significantly distinct anthem punch. Each track is highly relatable, with tales of uncertainty in life and love-a consistent theme of the record. It’s not a huge change from Young the Giant’s first album, but the style here is what separates the two. Each song flirts with optimism, every chorus invites sing-alongs, and the intermittent sweeping strings come together to pull far away from the melancholy present in their previous work. This more mainstream sound, however, hurts Young the Giant just as much as it propels them into a wider audience.
Although there is nothing wrong with being generic, Mind Over Matter falls into that pool over and over again. The string sections, however beautiful in their own right, feel contrived and forced. The lyrics are mediocre and lose the storytelling element that helped carry the previous album. The production is spot-on (having Justin Meldal-Johnsen as a producer definitely aids in that area), and the band’s sound is refined and professional. Often, however, it feels like Young the Giant traded in its ratty jeans and band t-shirts for Armani suits-the group seems polished and ready to take on the big arenas, but has Young the Giant really matured into this new sound, or was it a premature development that came for want of commercial appeal?
The eponymous lead single, “Mind Over Matter,” tackles the trials and tribulations of either long distance love or the girl that got away, however one wishes to interpret it. It is a catchy, toe-tapping anthem for the throes of missing someone, with violins to pull at the listener’s heart strings. Just recently released was the second single from the album, “Crystalized,” another love song about making home where one’s lover is. The formula is the same here: toe-tapping beat, catchy tune and lyrics, with hopeful electronic keyboard as an accent. Further, as someone listening to these songs on the radio would go on to find out, the formula doesn’t change much. To speak individually of each song would be a rehashing of the one before it, maybe with a subtle change to the instrumentation or the fact that one is a ballad versus a true anthem. The variety here is lacking, though there is not anything intrinsically wrong with any one song. Mind Over Matter as a whole, however, is heavily formulaic. Young the Giant definitely played it safe, preferring to stick to something that works instead of taking chances with its sound.
To say that Mind Over Matter is a bad album would be doing it an injustice. The band did, however, have the opportunity to really push ahead from its previous work, only instead to fall into the trap of mainstream glory. The spirit of previous singles such as “My Body” or “Cough Syrup” is still in here, just smothered under the weight of the desire to “make it.” The album works, its intent is clear, and the songs are uplifting and will make superb radio singles. Nevertheless, Young the Giant has effectively removed itself from the scene of indie musicianship and lost a bit of its character along the way.