X-Ray Youth – All Washed Up

 X-Ray Youth – All Washed Up

X-Ray Youth – All Washed Up – Album Review

Don’t get me wrong…part of me thinks it’s awesome that X-Ray Youth is finishing something they started TWENTY-FOUR YEARS AGO…and part of me thinks it’s completely crazy.  Understand my perspective though…I’m only forty-two years old, and I lost everything I owned back when I was twenty-three…so the idea that ANYTHING can be held onto for twenty-four years, in any capacity, is completely foreign to me.  X-Ray Youth originally started the process of putting this record together in 1998.  This would be their second album according to legend…and for what it’s worth, that’s pretty much my era of sound I suppose…I’m not saying that makes anything less crazy to me.  TWENTY-FOUR YEARS!  Honestly – I’m so much of a ‘write it, or record it, or eat it…just get onto whatever’s NEXT’ type of dude that I’m still trying to wrap my head around not just letting something go after so long.  The band itself, I think I can get behind that…if you’re in a band & you decide you wanna play together again after a long-ass hiatus…sure…I suppose I’m all for it – but the songs?  No lie X-Ray Youth…it really makes the main questions regarding this entire record become about whether or not each track was worth holding on to, and whether or not if a band gets back together after all that time – wouldn’t a fresh start be best?  I confess to not having a single clue as to what the answer is to that…I’ve written about a whole lot of things after 3000+ reviews here on these pages of ours alone…but this…THIS is truly a unique situation.

Would All Washed Up have played better in 1998, back in the day?  Undoubtedly…but we’ll move on.  Somewhere in between the special feeling I still get when I’m revisiting the album by The Disfigurines from 1994/1995, and the more current variations of keeping that Alt/Punk vibe alive via bands like The Vanilla Milkshakes, or artists like Trey Wonder…X-Ray Youth still has a solid place on playlists like mine.

Some cuts more than others of course…but that’s fairly true of just about every record I suppose.  As “Oh, The Guilt” began…I felt like this experience could go either way…I like the nostalgic feeling that a song like this gives me more than the track itself.  Wasn’t entirely sure about all that much as it started – the bass from Ryan Johansen SLAYS…that much I was confident in – but until “Oh, The Guilt” randomly started kicking ass in a reinvigorated second-half of its span…I was pretty much in take it or leave it mode.  I’d probably take it, because I’m a fan of real underground stuff that would never dream of being on the radio…but realistically, I was hearing the court of public opinion already starting to push back on this very first cut from All Washed Up  You gotta look at it from several perspectives of course – but the most crucial one is to think of how “Oh, The Guilt” isn’t JUST a new first impression – it’s THE song on the record that should be convincing you that TWENTY-FOUR YEARS was indeed, somehow worth the wait…and I’m not quite sure we get to that level right off the bat.  Bonus points for having a genuine 90s title…but Nirvana still gets to hold the top spot for songs called “Oh, The Guilt” for now.  I do think that when the band found the intensity & spark of this track around the 1:15 mark, everything snapped right together in a way that should be enough to convince any doubters to hang on & see what else is coming.

Things DO move quickly as this record carries on – “Subculture” is actually the longest song of the entire set, and it maxes itself out at 3:11.  Wasn’t completely sure about how I felt in regards to “Subculture” – the change-up in the way the verses are sung in comparison to the way this record started out threw me a little bit every time – but I’ll fully acknowledge that I really dig the animalistic intensity of the chorus hooks in this track, and the sharp raw edge you’ll find there.  Almost sounds like it’s being sung through a megaphone, you know?  Personally, I dig that.  I might not know too many songs that ARE sung through a megaphone, but every single one of’em that I do know, I’ve always found a way to love.  “Subculture” is unique…I’m not completely sold on it, or the record itself being perhaps as immediately front-loaded as it likely should be…but I ain’t really hatin’ either.  I freakin’ love the sound of the drums from Derrick Haggerty, which would be the newest player incorporated into the X-Ray Youth lineup – the part has great energy, but I’m talkin’ about literal sound…great pop in that snare.  Cymbals might be a little dominant on this cut for my own liking in the mix volume-wise, but everything else seems like the band did what they set out to do…”Subculture” is a bizarre structure full of push/pull energy, but I’m still listening, I’m still entertained, and I like how the band is playing…it’s the material that needs a bit more.

For myself, the answer to that last comment came quick enough – “So Please Let It Be You” was the track I feel like I’ve been waiting for…this is the cut you don’t throw away for TWENTY-FOUR YEARS until it gets its damn day on a record where it belongs.  To be clear…I don’t know how much of this album is all that applicable to the folks outside of the Grunge era & its accompanying underground freak-scene – but if that’s YOU…I think X-Ray Youth has got something real tasty for your ears here on track number three.  “So Please Let It Be You” is like a harder-hitting, more intense version of the earliest cuts in R.E.M.’s catalog…and I’m 100% here for it.  A highlight for Johnny Void’s vocals and harmonies…I think he’s got some seriously addictive melody built into this track, and a real memorable vibe here.  Smart choices being made in terms of how things sound and how many different ways Void’s vocals are presented to us…but I found each method to be as effective as the last, the guitar solo on-point as well, and the entire melody of “So Please Let It Be You” worked perfectly from the music to the microphone.  Well…I mean…you get it…I don’t wanna ruin their street cred, so Alt/Punk-perfectly…I’m not talking about every single second you hear being refined as fuck – I’m talking about a track that really works out in their favor & has the band playing as a unified force in a way that genuinely shows them at their best.  They’ve got just the right hint of Psych-sound in this melody…like something you’d find from Dandelion.

Still not 100% sure just who it is apparently, X-Ray Youth follows “So Please Let It Be You” with a more direct questioning on “Is It You?”  I dig the way they surge into the main hooks of this cut, like they’re harnessing the power in real time, and unleashing the payload when you get there.  “Is It You?” comes out right a stellar amount of fire & ice combined…comforting in the sense that we believe it might just be the person X-Ray Youth is searching for, and cold enough in knowing the question still needs to be asked, just in case.  While I feel like it would have been tough to top the last cut, “Is It You?” gives it the ol’ College (Rock) try…and gives the hooks & intensity a decent chance of rivaling “So Please Let It Be You” for many listeners out there.  It’s tracks like this that never really lose their spark & genuine sense of musical mischief over the years…”Is It You?” still has the juice, still has the fire…and the dynamics work well here too.  You get that early-R.E.M.-esque mumble-meets-low-volume design in the verses, but it’s played cleverly here, giving the band the opportunity to roar headfirst into the chorus and make the most of that moment.  We feel the impact it makes, and we feed off that energy as we listen to it.

You eyeball that 1:34 of “And You Tell Me” and expect things to come blazin’ atcha, given that the majority of what you’ve heard so far has been played pretty fast & furiously.  Instead, X-Ray Youth takes the quiet route and gives themselves a breather on this cover of the A-Ha tune.  It’s fairly faithful in that regard I suppose.  It’s weird…choices, that is.  X-Ray Youth goes all the way back to just prior to the real dawn of home-recordings becoming that much more affordable than they ever were…so they know what it’s like to theoretically get like, one or two cracks at a recorded cover in a career – nothing like it is nowadays with all your TikTok’n non-stop’n.  Do I think “And You Tell Me” is the kind of song that needed to be covered?  Not really.  If I’m being real with ya, I’m not all that convinced it needed to be recorded the first time either when A-Ha did it.  We all like what we like and love what we love.  If this was still that era where X-Ray Youth might only have it in the budget to do one more cover song before their time in the studio was all over, I’d say it’s a crazy choice with a million other songs to choose from – but given that they’re back in action here in the modern-day era, they could put a hundred more covers together in between now and the time they call it quits for real if they felt so inclined to.  And so then, why NOT “And You Tell Me” becomes to question, doesn’t it?  No harm, no foul here as far as I’m concerned.  I don’t know that it necessarily furthers the experience of All Washed Up but I wouldn’t say that it hurts it in any way, shape, or form either.  It’s just over ninety-seconds of your life – deal with it.

“Understandable Differences” has that…quintessential 90s-feeling to it…like it was one of the outtakes from being on the soundtrack to something like Empire Records or Dumb And Dumber.  For those of you that weren’t there at the time or still tadpoles now, that’s a good thing.  I’ll say this…X-Ray Youth gives this track an interesting mix of energy, and I feel like this particular cut could have been approached in a whole bunch of different ways.  I personally like the soft-sell vocal melody style here from Void…I don’t know that I’d consider it a perfect match or the right call necessarily, but I ain’t hatin’ on it – it sounds good…just perhaps a bit muted by comparison to the rest.  Admittedly, the music itself, is out to kick some ass…so in a way it’s a bit surprising to hear the vocals come out as quieted as they are, when you’d assume that Johnny would be drawing the spirit of Rock from the sound around him & making the most of this amped-up opportunity.  I mean…heck – it’s HIS guitars that bring the real fire to this track and fuels the spark in the energy of the rhythm section surrounding him, but like I said, it’s not a bad choice, so much as it is an unexpected one.  Y’all regular readers know me – I’m all about serving the song itself and going where the music takes you – to me, Johnny somewhat decided to take the music he created, and then go in the opposite direction with the vocals…but I ain’t denying that it still works.  In fact, I’d probably still put “Understandable Differences” up there with some of my favorite cuts off this record overall…so there’s that to consider.  I guess I’m just back at that point where I’m thinkin’ to myself, TWENTY-FOUR YEARS y’all…there was plenty of time to figure out the way to get as much energy in the vocals in a way that would rival or even parallel with the music…and instead, X-Ray Youth went this way with it.  I suppose what I’m saying is, “Understandable Differences” is a really good tune – but does it have the potential to be a really GREAT one?  Honestly I think so…just gotta light a fire under Johnny so that when it comes time to let it rip on the mic, that energy we wanna find with the music is there too.  Everything about this track works really well in the writing and the musicianship – hell, I’m not even saying the guy did a bad job singing it, because I don’t think that he did!  I’m just advocating for a track like “Understandable Differences” to be experimented with…I think it has more potential than we hear.

A track like “Oh, Teresa” might not exactly recreate the wheel, but it’s a good time.  I like how the energy comes rushing into this one as the bass & guitar kick it off, and then snaps into the bouncy vibe of the melody.  Vocals-wise, I finally figured it out…Void reminds me a lot of what you’d hear in songs by the old 90s Canadian-based band called The Doughboys…which is plenty cool with me.  “Oh, Teresa” with a couple of horns or trumpets or whatever could have turned itself into a Ska song in a heartbeat – so props to X-Ray Youth for not going that route, I know my ears appreciate it.  You’ll get what I’m sayin’ when you have a listen for yourself though…it’s got that back & forth type sway to the guitar melody & some fairly standard style (albeit, really well played) bass-lines involved, but they play this track like they own it…it’s got teeth underneath the surface of all that shinier stuff on top, and I dig that about “Oh, Teresa.”  Examining the anxiety of the push/pull of love…”Oh, Teresa” is for all of you folks that have ever felt your hands go clammy or gotten those butterflies in your stomach when you’re around that special someone you’ve got a crush on.  I really dig the way the guitars take over the hooks in this tune when it reaches peak intensity…all-in-all…ya I’d say I’m a fan of this cut – “Oh, Teresa” is A-OK with me.

One of the most complete & fully realized tracks you’ll hear on this album, is without a doubt, “Charlie Chan” – this track freakin’ rocks the socks, and there’s simply no other way of lookin’ at it.  Unencumbered by the vocal duties, Johnny Void is left to slay it with his guitar…and if that’s what has made the difference, I do not know – but whatever it is…we gotta look into it – because every single time “Charlie Chan” came on, I was pretty much convinced I was listening to the best track on All Washed Up, and that X-Ray Youth was anything BUT All Washed Up – this track is the sound of a band with LIFE in its veins, thriving at full power.  Texture, tone, power, precision…everything is right where you wanna find it on the album’s only instrumental cut…it’s a savagely addictive slice of sound for what’s only mere seconds over the two minute mark.  In a way, it should theoretically take a whole lot longer to really establish an impact on the ol’ ears – but “Charlie Chan” not only proves otherwise, I’d go as to far say that X-Ray Youth has you at hello and never let’s go!  The ENTIRE SONG IS THE HOOK y’all.  I could have taken another twenty-two minutes of this track, to round it out to a nice twenty-four in total, to give it a full minute per year that X-Ray Youth kept “Charlie Chan” hidden away & locked in the vault.

In my opinion, they ended this long-anticipated second record a lot stronger than it began.  I think one of Johnny’s best vocal performances can be found on the final track “Platonic Friend” – and for as impressed as I’ve been with Ryan’s bass throughout this entire record, he hits another massive highlight rip through the rhythm at the core of this final track too.  Everyone’s on fire here at the end – Derrick is crushin’ those drums, the guitar solo from Void is short but solid…the hooks are memorable, the energy is frantic, the melody is there…it’d be hard to argue that they could have left you wanting for anything more, or that they did anything other than take this record straight into the end-zone for a majestic freakout dance of celebration in its final moments.  TWENTY-FOUR YEARS…and the record is finally OUT – I think I’m in just as much shock as they are if I’m being truthful with ya!  I can only imagine how good it has gotta feel to get these songs out there once & for all…and after the wild string of successes this album pumps out over the course of its final four tracks – I’d only hope that X-Ray Youth would be encouraged to start working on their third record.  All great things come in trilogies anyway, don’t they?  But you get the idea…if they’re gonna take TWENTY-FOUR YEARS between records, they need to get things started quickly to get to that next one.  After the wicked rip through “Charlie Chan” into the frenzied freak-out vibes of “Platonic Friend,” believe me – they put me completely in the mood for another experience with X-Ray Youth in the future, whenever that might come around.  They rock with real underground indie-style street cred…it’s an arrow in their quiver that they pull with real strength, and sonically shoot straight atcha with an unrelenting dose of Alt/Punk that hits the mark of satisfaction.

Hear more music by X-Ray Youth at Spotify:   https://open.spotify.com/artist/1MWXrgHzE87T1JOfrTJ0Q7

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Jer@SBS

http://sleepingbagstudios.ca

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