Published Aug 31, 2018Rumours of folk's demise have been greatly exaggerated. Kalle Mattson's declaration that "folk is dead" as the tagline for the Ottawa-based singer-songwriter's third album, Youth., suggested a rebranding that would leave the acoustic guitar to collect dust on its stand. But while the singles — in particular the bubble-gummy "Kids on the Run" — hinted at what might have been a drastic shift toward synth-y pop music, the new record as a whole is an experimentation with more modern sounds without being a total shedding of old skin.
Compared to prior efforts like 2014's Someday, the Moon Will be Gold, Youth. does away with much of traditional instrumentation and folk-rock presentation that harkened back to legacy acts like Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan and U2. Instead, the songs are threaded together by ambient echoes, weepy pianos and programmed beats, combining for a sort of art-house folk atmosphere that consistently plucks at the heartstrings. "Once" is a fine example, opening the album with a classic folk tune rendered movielike; later, "Fades Away" expands upon that, drowning out Mattson's lightly plucked acoustic guitar in a cascade of effects and far-away booms of percussion.
It's no surprise to learn that American synth maestro Tycho was as much (or more of) an influence on Youth. as Sufjan Stevens. "Broken in Two" is littered with electronic elements that pop, buzz and sing as Mattson lays himself out at his most intimate and vulnerable. "Strangers" and "Searching for Somewhere," meanwhile, are moody yet danceable pop tunes with an 808s or Take Care-type vibe. In some ways, the record feels like a spiritual successor to Bon Iver's self-titled album, the kind of sound that could have bridged the gap between that and the wildly modulated 22, a Million.
Mattson has plenty under his belt as he steps into his late 20s: three albums now, along with a pair of EPs and a couple of Juno and Polaris nominations. He's proven to be quite the gifted songwriter, and this record sees him taking that talent into unique and inventive new territory. And he's still quite young, too — but time stops for no one. Youth is a coming-of-age record that seeks to remind us of the dreams we used to have; the people with whom we've lost touch, or who we've lost altogether; and all the other changes that flashed before our eyes. It's designed to reflect the wistful, nostalgic and possibly lost millennial, and its intergenerational sound achieves that and much more. (Independent)