You Me At Six came into my life nearly five years ago. In that five years, I’ve seen the band live three times — and I’ve been lucky enough to meet its members each time. I’ve also been lucky enough to listen to You Me At Six’s musical journey, from the playful but semi-maudlin pop punk of its debut, Take Off Your Colours (several songs of which have become anthems for not only me, but every fan of this band), to the harder sounds of its sophomore album Hold Me Down and then the dark anger of Sinners Never Sleep.
Now, the band has released Cavalier Youth, and this album is so good that my first listen quite literally took my breath away. For that matter, so did my second. And my third. In the Alter the Press! review of the album, the writer made the claim that this record is significantly more optimistic than previous YMAS releases — and she isn’t wrong. But what strikes me most about this album isn’t the optimism that seems to underlie it.
It’s the fact that all of the things lead singer Josh Franceschi has been singing about for three records — heartbreak, betrayal, growing up, falling in love, killing yourself to live — are still present, in spades, on Cavalier Youth. But this time around, the songs blend into such a cohesive story that it feels like the band is suiting up for war — and it’s suiting up its fans to fight, too.
In the video for the record’s second single, “Fresh Start Fever”, YMAS quite literally suit someone up for battle. The song talks about moving on from the past, moving forward into the future even when everything is fucked up and uncertain. And it strikes a chord. Heard in context of the rest of Cavalier Youth, the song contributes to the overall theme of running at life, full-tilt, no holds barred, and kicking its ass. The album is optimistic, yes. But it’s also a reminder: no one lives forever, and the limited time we have is riddled with problems and proverbial storms that no one is ever truly prepared to handle. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t good, or that it can’t be good.
The opening track, “Too Young to Feel This Old”, sets the pace for the entire album. Listening to it feels like a journey through a series of emotions, from hopeful to devastated to hopeful again. It feels like a coming of age story told explicitly through music, and the growth You Me At Six has gone through as a band and as people is apparent from the first note. The wisdom (and the pain, and the refusal to back down) imparted through Franceschi’s lyrics is backed by incredible instrumentals from the rest of the band and the energy never dies. Even the final track, “Wild Ones” — a slower song that ends the album with a haunting repetition of “Are we gonna live forever? No” (a nice callback to the lyrical themes in “Too Young to Feel This Old”, bringing the album full circle) — doesn’t diminish any of the pulsing energy of the album.
The band hasn’t lost its propensity for anthemic tracks. Since its debut, You Me At Six has produced songs that, especially when performed live, have such power to them that they make you feel like your chest has caved in, like you can’t possibly keep standing for all the adrenaline thrumming in your veins. Cavalier Youth starts with just such a track — and then comes “Lived a Lie”, which ends with the heartstopping choral repetition of “We are believers, we are believers”. And then “Fresh Start Fever”. And then…
There’s not a single track on this album that doesn’t feel simultaneously like a kick in the chest and an uplifting call to fight for survival. What’s even better is that, like on previous releases, YMAS writes ghosts of older songs into its new ones. Lyrics return, either partially or in their entirety, and add a depth of feeling to the new tracks that’s absolutely unparalleled. Hearing lines like “the shallow is as shallow does” on this album, after hearing the words for the first time on the band’s debut, makes me want to go back and re-evaluate everything the band has produced thus far. And that happens every time YMAS releases something new. It’s really fucking cool.
My connection to this band is especially prevalent because I’m the same age as its members, and the world events and musical stylings that have run in my blood for almost 24 years have also deeply affected these men. You Me At Six came into my life when I was 19 years old, a sophomore in college trying to navigate the torrential waters of adulthood. I think it’s fair to say that since then, I’ve learned some pretty serious life lessons and grown in noticeable, remarkable ways. You Me At Six has seen me through all of that.
I made a promise to myself that 2014 would be incredible, no matter what. I’m not at all surprised that You Me At Six seems to be on the same page, because for the last five years, I’ve been able to fall into the band’s music at any given point, with total empathy for the lyrical content and overall vibe. Cavalier Youth is going to narrate this year. I can feel it already. And I’m ready for whatever life has to throw at me. Let’s go.