Divining the inspirations and reasons why behind a record's sound can be tricky business, but sometimes it's obvious. Young Galaxy were a mostly stagnant indie rock band out of Montreal whose dream-pop debut failed to garner any buzz on Arts & Crafts records. When 2009's Invisible Republic reduced their reliance on obfuscation and tightened their rhythms, they still felt like a genre band outside the indie zeitgeist: theatric, self-serious synth-pop. Shapeshifting, the band's third album and first on Paper Bag Records, was produced remotely by Studio's Dan Lissvik. The band retains their big-idea spaciness but sees Lissvik place his coiled rhythms and pulsing synths all over. The result is Young Galaxy's finest record, and while it's impossible to say if Lissvik made the band better, he definitely made them more interesting and relevant.
Young Galaxy have always been good at glancing skyward, but Lissvik provided them the jetpacks necessary to travel there. Lissvik received a fully recorded album from the band and was charged with producing/augmenting the material. Whatever specific contributions he did make, Shapeshifting sounds like his work, at least rhythmically: The songs are underpinned by short, repeating circuits of disco guitar, twinkling piano, and disco thumps. It's impossible to hear the tropical whorls of "Peripheral Visionaries" or the way "Phantom"'s jumping, trebly guitars sink in and out of elongated sighs without hearing the elusive Swede. Sometimes the results are stunning. On "We Have Everything", McCandless casts aside her celestial musings in favor of ascendant personal theater: "I wept when we parted/ I wept when we united/ In poverty my love we have everything," she sings, Lissvik stretching a cityscape behind her. "B.S.E." recalls a more muscular version of the Eurythmics.
Young Galaxy make explicit the type of evergreen romanticism mostly implied by bands like M83 and the Dears. Songs like "We Have Everything" will make you want to seize your inner libertine and/or power through your modest gym workout. They are not fucking around with vagaries or self-consciousness: at one point Catherine McCandless sings, "Watch as energy/ Rolls out to us on golden horns of light." McCandless and the less operatic but less captivating Stephen Ramsay are hopelessly, furiously enchanted throughout. The lyrics can be oppressively silly, and even if they're no more so than some of Young Galaxy's peers (Cut Copy, M83) I find it harder to suppress the snickers during their starry dramas. Shapeshifting is not an album for those repulsed by horoscopes and dreamcatchers.
Dance music errs on the side of fantasy frequently, though those fantasies tend to be self-contained (e.g. in the club, in your heart). Shapeshifting isn't proper dance music-- let's call it dance-inflected pop-- but it is fantastic and unbound. The friction between Lissvik's meticulous spheres and the abandon with which McCandless and Ramsay push against their edges generates a heat absent on prior Young Galaxy records. And while it would seem that makes the band the big winners here, they do provide the occasionally sterile Lissvik with excesses (of melody and emotion) that he doesn't always generate on his own. Listening to him handle it-- imagine a child trying to hold a beach ball underwater-- is Shapeshifting's greatest reward.
-Andrew Gaerig, pitchfork.com