From the moment I heard Houston-based Young Mammals I’ve been itching to write them up. The trouble is that I didn’t know what to say. I’ve listened to their debut album “Carrots” so many times that if MP3s wore out as quickly as vinyl I’d have to purchase a new copy by now. But when it comes to articulating what it is that hooked me so thoroughly, I’ve been at a loss for words. At face value, Young Mammals falls under the same umbrella as a lot of the hip indie bands out there today. Creating articulate pop music which tastefully embraces the do-it-yourself aesthetic that’s so in vogue nowadays and accentuating it with moments of experimental madness, this is a band that’s primed for indie stardom. While that’s big praise, it could apply to a lot of the artists featured recently on the Ampeater Review. It’s nice, but it’s not the whole story. There’s something really special about Young Mammals, a certain je ne sais quoi. I’m still not sure I’ve found the words to capture it so let’s turn to the music and maybe you’ll see what I mean.
First let’s take a listen to the aptly named A-side “Confetti” — apt because it’s about the closest I’ve heard a song approximate those little colorful pieces of paper that people like to throw in the air at parties. The first track off Carrots, it makes for a powerful introduction to the album. If you listen to Confetti you’ll hear-or rather, feel-the roar of Times Square after the ball drops, the jingle of Jingle Bells, and the bonus-round victory themes of the classic Nintendo games you played as a kid. Or maybe you still play?
At any rate, “Confetti” is a two-and-a-half minute bundle of energy that’s simply bursting at the seams. It’s hard to listen without being swept away by the euphoric power. At the root of this euphoria is a guitar arpeggio which persists throughout practically the entire recording. It only drops out briefly during the bridge, which allows for a powerful entrance when it reenters at the climax. Of course, the climax is also heightened by the high pitched screams. And let’s not forget the background vocals which range from abrasive shouts to smooth harmonies reminiscent of a barber shop quartet. However, the most interesting part of the song is the ending which pushes the listener to view the exuberance of “Confetti” in a new light. The climax of the song is so big that there’s no room left to build. So what’s the solution? Fuck it up!
As that last victory chord rings out, the shouting continues, shifting from joy to crazed laughter to pain. At least it seems that way as the chord fades into screeching guitars. It’s a delayed reaction. It’s like that scene in some movie when this guy’s playing with a baby animal and everybody’s marveling at how cute it is when suddenly the animal starts gnawing on the guy’s arm and it takes a few seconds for everybody to realize what’s happening. I’m not actually sure if that scene exists in a movie, but I feel as if I’ve seen it several times over, and that’s certainly what’s going on here. Or in this case, I suppose it’s a little girl. Carlos Sanchez (vocals, guitar) explains “The song is about my little sister and a temper tantrum she had when she was 3. She thought she was inflicting so much pain by squeezing my arm as strong as she could. Of course it was funny to see a cute little 3 year old try to murder you.” So, behind the auditory confetti, there’s a darker side. It captures the quick shift between ecstasy and agony, the fine line between cute and excessively violent.
As I write, I’m slowly learning to articulate what makes Young Mammals so special. Unlike many indie-pop bands, they really can’t be listened to passively. A few weeks ago I made the mistake of trying to listen to “Carrots” while I was reading a book. Big mistake. This is visceral stuff and it needs to be cranked. A lot of music is derivative of emotion. Your girlfriend dumps you so you write a sad song. But with Young Mammals I get the impression that the music embodies-no, builds upon-the inspiration in such a way that it takes on a life of its own. “Confetti” isn’t about a three-year-old girl throwing a temper tantrum-it is a three-year-old girl throwing a temper tantrum.
Even in a calmer song like B-side “8-4-8” , Young Mammals pack a punch. Nearly twice as long and with less lyrical content than “Confetti” , it unfolds at a slow pace while Ryan Chavez’s snare-heavy drumline gives it plenty of oomph. I reemphasize, this is deceptively intense music. Even when the story behind the music fades, the power of the story remains. With regard to “8-4-8” , Sanchez elaborates, “I honestly don’t remember what this song is about, it may have even originated when we were in high school. The only thing I think of is the Polar Express. I remember Cley [Miller] coming up with that riff and the drum line and those are my personal favorite parts of that song. His guitar part reminds me of a tornado siren.” So, what is “8-4-8” ? It’s a ride on a magical train to the North Pole, it’s a bell that only believers can hear, it’s a tornado about to lift your house off the ground and dump it in a cow pasture several kilometers away… It’s whatever you feel when you hear it. It doesn’t really matter where the music comes from but you’re definitely going to feel something.
Young Mammals was formed in 2004 when brothers Carlos Sanchez and Jose Sanchez (bass) and Cley Miller started jamming together. “Every Friday in Cleys room we played music, listened to music and we just hung out,” Sanchez reminisces. It took a while to find a reliable drummer, but finally Ryan Chavez joined the mix. It was a perfect fit, as his potent and nonlinear drum lines are an integral part of the band’s energy.
“When it comes to writing songs we all write together,” Sanchez elaborates. “One of us will bring an idea and we all put our own perspective on to the song. When it comes to any decision we usually make it together.” That’s a very organic approach to songwriting but in reality it’s not how most bands do it. By and large, the bands I’ve encountered have a leader, either official or unofficial, who writes most of the material and is responsible for the artistic direction of the band. There’s something to be said for that approach-with a clear leader it’s a littler easier to achieve sonic consistency, a cohesive vision. But it’s a give and take. With a, for lack of better adjective, democratic band such as Young Mammals-I mean democratic in the truest sense, a system in which everybody is actively involved in the decision making process-you get something a little more playful and less predictable. With nobody clearly in control, anything can happen. Perhaps that’s the key to the je ne sai quoi I’ve been trying to put a finger on. Story telling is the work of an author, but when you get a cacophony of authors the drama takes place in the telling of the story, not in the content. The music of Young Mammals is rife with the chaotic energy of four distinct voices. Go feel it for yourself. The band is on tour for the summer and they’re passing through New York City this week. Catch them at Bruar Falls tonight or the Cake Shop on Wednesday.
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https://ampeater.s3.amazonaws.com/aem106/02 8 4 8.mp3