Jenny Owen Youngs - Transmitter Failure
Record Label: Nettwerk Records
Release Date: May 26, 2009
If only all albums were made like this.
Transmitter Failure, the sophomore release from New York's Jenny Owen Youngs, her second with Nettwerk is an accessible, engaging, tour-de-force of 13 (technically, 12) pop-rock songs that are fully satisfying, wholly confessional and startingly real. Armed with honey-throated vocals and a deft ability to write both memorable hooks and saturnine ballads, Youngs is the new millenium's Liz Phair wrapped up in an unassuming coziness reminiscent of Regina Spektor.
Don't trust the Phair comparison? On her 2007 debut Batten the Hatches, she assumed the voice of her ex-lover, lamented over whiskey bottles to heal wounds, railed against heartbreak in a foul-mouthed singalong and detailed the crumbling foundation of family dsyfunction. Said album, which was originally released in 2005, re-appeared two years ago on Nettwerk, which landed the foul-mouthed singalong ("Fuck Was I") on the acclaimed Showtime series "Weeds." and hordes of positive acclaim followed. And yet for reasons unknown Owens Young still remained on the outside looking in.
This album will change that.
While Transmitter Failure is definitively pointed and quick-witted, it's considerably more tame and even-keel than its predecessor, that is of course, if you consider the following lyrics tame: "Here is a heart, battered and braised, grilled and sauteed, just how you like it."
Those words, from the affecting ballad "Here is a Heart ," is just a small glimpse into the sometimes distorted psyche of one of New York City's most underrated songwriters. A romantic at heart, most of Transmitter Failure details the ups and downs of love, be it newfound, anticipatory or defunct. Where the disc sets itself apart though is in the angles and analyses she details. The album's prelude, "First Person," is a forty-second ditty replete with handclaps, double bass and ukelele, that shuffles along quickly before diving into "Led to the Sea." That song finds her making the following marked assessment, "Observe exhibit A, who never learned to stay, there's nothing in you for the life to hear, pound it into the dirt, to try and make it work. You won't be happy till we've drowned in it. We're never gonna fit."
Youngs says of the new album, "I wanted to make something that would move people emotionally, but also move them physically. I did not want to end up touring for another three years on a record that wouldn't offer people the opportunity to move. So. Dan Romer and I set out to make something that was, quite simply, more fun to play live. In the process, my writing took turns I didn't expect." Those turns include the highly memorable, foot-stompers "Led to the Sea," "Dissolve," and "Clean Break," which have the same kind of gusto one receives from a morning cup of coffee, the orchestral indie-pop of "If I Didn't Know" and the waltzy "Nighty Night," to name a few.
Raised in northwestern New Jersey where she listed rock-skipping and bear-chasing as hobbies, this former Girl Scout has gone on record as admitting that when it comes to prospective romance, she's a bit hands-on: "When I'm meeting someone for the first time and my gut instinct tells me that we're going to be important to each other for years to come, I like to take 'making a connection' to a slightly more literal plane, and connect myself... to a lap. It's unconventional and maybe a little invasive, but people tend to remember you upon a second meeting once you've shared that kind of intimacy."
That strain of honesty is what sets Owen Youngs apart from the assorted lot of literate, hook-minded female singer/songwriters. Even when the subject is something as overdone as romance, there's an engaging quality about the way she carries her message. With a helping hand from the string section of the Spring Awakening musical, Transmitter Failure is an irresistible, infectious and richly textured album that's as fine a release as any that has come across my desk this year.