When you listen to Mind Over Matter, the new album from Young the Giant, it is impossible not to notice the different energy coursing through the band's collective vein. With his throaty cries, frontman Sameer Gadhia sounds as if he's expelling personal demons, and Mind undeniably is more propulsive than the band's 2010 breakthrough self-titled album.
As guitarist Eric Cannata notes, much can be attributed to a watershed moment Young the Giant had early in the recording process, when writer's block and the pressure of trying to deliver a solid sophomore release weighed heavily on the band's shoulders.
"We felt some pressure to reconnect with these fans we'd made after touring so long on the first album, and we got to a point where we had maybe a month or two of writer's block," Cannata says. "I think, one day, we just woke up and decided we were going to try something different and try to step outside our comfort zones and experiment with sounds. We wrote the title track, and from that point on, we felt that we were limitless in what we could do with our sound."
The comparatively down-tempo rock strains of the band's debut are largely absent on Mind. The jangly rock of "Anagram" will have you dancing in circles in no time, "Daydreamer" is a soaring pop rock track that sounds like a distant cousin of Jimmy Eat World's "The Middle," and the driving rock 'n' roll of "In My Hope" is an unstoppable force. There are moments when the band slows things down to give the listener time to breathe ("Firelight"), but the musical emphasis is one of pushing forward rather than becoming stagnant.
It's appropriate, given the psychological implications of the album's title, and noteworthy, given the record's content. There is a consistent narrative thread about the tension between paralysis and freedom and between inaction and action, so the music often acts as an accompaniment to whatever vocal or lyrical encouragement Gadhia is giving. But as much as the album is the result of the band's creative processes, it is more universally relatable than any sort of diary.
"The album touches on the idea that everybody has expectations in life; it's not just people going in to record a second album," Cannata says. "Everyone has obstacles that they put in front of them, and sometimes those obstacles can make you feel paralyzed and helpless, and the album in that sense is dynamic lyrically because certain songs talk about that paralysis."
As Cannata notes, once the band had broken free from the restraint of expectations, after writing "Mind Over Matter," the process went more smoothly.
"I guess our comfort zone would be, 'Let's get in a room and write a song this particular way like we've done before.' We wanted to break down those barriers and say, 'Let's explore different ways to write together.'"
With this thought process in mind, the band went to work on creating an album that would be challenging and freeing at the same time. The album's first single, "It's About Time" — which peaked at number seven on Billboard's Alternative Songs chart — adds a groovier, almost psychedelic rock strain to the band's melodic sonic palette, and "In My Home" and the title track offer meditations on the theme of pressing on despite difficult circumstances with lines like, "We're not lost / We're just searching," and "I'm a young man built to fall." Mind showcases a band that was willing to take risks and think outside the box, or in the case of "Eros," take a suggestion from someone about going in a different direction with a particular song.
"'Eros' drastically changed from more of a surf rock track to a more funky, almost glam rock kind of sound," Cannata says. "Our producer was like, 'You guys should try that song in a completely different style. Try it in a funkier, dancier style.' He left the room and we started playing the chorus over and over, and after about 10 passes, we had this fresh idea for the song. So that one definitely took a turn."
And with respect to turns, Cannata knows that Mind is going to be a change for some fans and that not all of them will like it. But he is okay with that. They wanted to make a record that their fans would enjoy, but once they came to the realization that they first had to be satisfied with what they created, a huge weight lifted from the band.
"[It] started lifting once the last note was played," says Cannata. "That was kind of the moment we felt, like, after all this time, we got these songs where we wanted them to be, and now we're releasing it for everybody to listen to."
As with any album, the responses have been across the board, with some people loving the new sound and others wishing that the band had stayed more in line with the tone and feel of their debut. Cannata has enjoyed the experience of seeing how people are responding to a project they worked so hard on.
"It's nice to see people loving it and also hating it," he says. "I think [that's] really interesting. Obviously, everybody has their own opinion, and everyone has certain expectations for a band that has a new record out that they might fall in love with. I think for us, now, part of this whole entire learning experience with the second record was just trying to let go of that idea of people disliking the record or comparing it to the first record and not liking this one as much or just not liking the new sound."
For Cannata, making Mind Over Matter is a continuation of his growth as a musician, and the title is an apt one because no matter how difficult his challenges are, he wants to keep meeting them head on.
"I see music in my life in so many different aspects, whether it be playing guitar or writing a song, or making music for myself to help myself grow and learn as a musician," he says. "I really try to absorb everyone I meet in the music world because they have something to teach me. We're still very young and new to this, and there's still so much to learn and so many new things you can experience. I want to grow as much as I can."
Young the Giant is scheduled to perform Wednesday, February 12, at Comerica Theatre.
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