The Young Leaves - Big Old Me
Record Label: self-released (first edition) / Thirsty and Miserable Recordings (rerelease)
Release Date: April 19, 2007
After recording his own demo album entirely on his own in his basement, Young Leaves leader Chris Chaisson formed a full band and hit the studio for Big Old Me, featuring himself on vocals and lead guitar, a rhythm guitarist, bassist, and drummer. The results are nothing short of charming.
Many of the sounds on the album are familiar, more than approximating the feel of a 90s alt-rock record. The influence of Dinosaur Jr. is at the forefront, bearing the overblown guitars, tough drums, and a kinship to J Mascis' vocal styling. To his credit however, Chaisson sings with more emotional investment and intensity, perhaps due to his focus on more straightforward, personal lyrics. Plus, the band sounds kickin'.
The record's focus however, is the art of the song. Chaisson's hooks are all very strong, extremely well executed, and very accessible like his alt-rock influences. The strength of Chaisson's songs can be likened to Evan Dando's writing in the Lemonheads; radio-friendly with artistic integrity. Big Old Me finds highlights in the calm tempo of "Van Morrison," the hooky singalong "Look Sharp, Die Young," the heart-on-its-sleeve title track, and "Stapled" with its powerful chorus. Chaisson's versatility as a songwriter and performer in these four songs alone are enough to solidify him as one of the best underground artists active today. Granted, he and the band might be hitherto unknown outside of southern New England, but that's besides the point; the album is qualitative proof of their collective talents.
The album is tight, with not a moment wasted, coming in at just under 40 minutes (or just about 35 minutes on the rerelease). None of the songs are unfit for the album; no sore thumbs. Chaisson's songs work well together thematically, creating somewhat of an outsider stance, frequently commenting on not fitting in. It might be familiar territory lyrically (especially if you're familiar with his chief influences), but Chaisson's unique personality shines through enough to make his words, and this record, his own.
Occasionally, the record might feel a little samey, especially in the second half. This is the album's number one problem. To Chaisson's credit, the songs are compelling enough to make up for that for the most part. Some songs might feel a little bit derivative; a little too reminiscent of 90s alt-rock. It's true though that these are problems rather typical of debut records. And, like most strong debuts with these issues, Chaisson manages to win on the strength of his better songs.
Few can claim an album this good at 19 years old. This is promising work.
Footnote -- Big Old Me has seen a rerelease in recent months, with the Leaves having been signed to Thirsty and Miserable Recordings in 2010. The rerelease does not feature the original final track "Snowing," and also has alternate cover art.