Published Jul 31, 2019How do you make a record that could camouflage with the music of the '60s, yet still sounds perfectly refreshing and contemporary in 2019? You can ask Ben Cook, but the most likely answer is also the most obvious — write good songs, and it'll work.
GUV I is the third album by Young Guv, the solo project of this Toronto artist, best known as a member of revered Canadian punk bands Fucked Up and No Warning. After the moody, '80s soul-pop sound of last year's 2 Sad 2 Funk, this effort returns to the fizzy power-pop for which he was initially praised after his 2015 debut Ripe 4 Luv.
It's a tight, economical album (most songs are less than three minutes), the result of not only a punk ethos, but the efficiency of a practised songwriter. It's hard to find explicit mention of Cook's co-writing credits — his label says only that "some of the names would surprise you" — but some press has mentioned Kelly Clarkson, Maroon 5 and even Taylor Swift. If that checks out, it's some pretty heavy-duty ghostwriting. Young Guv, though, offers plenty of its own evidence of his skill at the craft.
Written in his new home of Brooklyn, GUV I finds Cook feeling alone in a world full of lonely people. He's surrounded by millions of strangers, all feeling lonely together. With songs like "Every Flower I See" and "Luv Always," he looks at this through the lens of love — feeling so close, yet so far from it, and maybe even unworthy of it. But while that may seem bleak, the sunny disposition of these songs makes it all feel so full of hope.
From the peppy "Patterns Prevail" to the fast-paced, subaquatic "Roll With Me" to the whimsical "High on My Mind" to the breezy, quasi-melancholy "Didn't Even Cry," there's a quality to the record that's from an earlier time, but not dated — the word "vintage" isn't right, but it's closer. Basically, GUV I sounds quite a bit like if Simon & Garfunkel or the Mamas and the Papas were born 25 years later, and broke onto the scene in the early '90s alongside bands like Teenage Fanclub and the Posies.
Yet despite the A-plus songwriting, the album's listenability is a little obscured by its fuzzy, watery production style — as if there's a foggy glass divide between the artist and the listener. Cook would really pull himself and the Young Guv project farther out of the realm of punk orthodoxy if he ditched the jangly, lo-fi aesthetic and pursued a more organic sound — one that would likely end up sounding something like Big Star, Fleetwood Mac or Oasis — but it would be better for it. Regardless, these songs are infectious enough that they ought to catch just about anyone's ear. (Run For Cover)