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Album Review
Mat Kearney - Young Love Album Cover

Mat Kearney - Young Love

Reviewed by
9.0
Mat KearneyYoung Love
Record Label: Aware Records, Universal Republic
Release Date: August 2nd, 2011
This review was written by an AP.net staff member.
I can still remember the first time I heard Mat Kearney's breakthrough single, the title track to 2006's fantastic Nothing Left to Lose, on some late summer evening that year. It was a perfect summer song: a breezy piece of acoustic pop that fit right with my music tastes at the time and immediately became a part of my summer soundtrack. I eventually picked up the CD, and I was a bit surprised at what I heard. Roughly half the songs were straightforward singer/songwriter fare, in the vein of the title track, but on the other 6 or 7 songs, Kearney blended pop with hip hop, rapping verses that flowed and built into big pop choruses. That genre blending, which at first sounded jarring and alien to my young ears, kept me coming back years after I picked that record up, and I'm still, to this day, discovering and rediscovering favorite songs from it.

I fell so in love with the freestyle vibe of "Nothing Left to Lose" that by the time the follow up, entitled City of Black & White, dropped in 2009, I found myself furiously disappointed that Kearney (or perhaps his label) had decided to drop the hip hop element of his sound entirely. The record was a straightforward summer pop album, and I did enjoy it for what it was, but on my first few listens, I noticed only 2 or 3 standout tracks and was ready to set it aside and write Kearney off as a talented gentleman who just went in the wrong direction with his music. It was a classic example of my expectations coloring my opinion of an album, but thankfully, I gave it a few more chances, and I'm glad I did. Once I set aside my expectations for another Nothing Left to Lose, I was able to view City for what it is: a stunning collection of well crafted pop songs. Today, both records probably sit somewhere in my all time top 25.

On his third major label effort, Young Love, Kearney changes directions once again, finding a middle ground between the hip hop influence of Nothing Left to Lose and the folk infused pop of City of Black and White. The most notable thing about these new songs is how beat heavy they are, especially on the first half of the record. Kearney has said that they essentially made this album like it was a hip hop project, focusing on the beats and production as much as the lyrics and music. That's apparent from the second track and album highlight "Ships in the Night", which with a little label push, could have been a huge hit on the radio this summer. The song is flawlessly produced, layered in synths, shimmering keys, and a persistent beat that will make sure the song earns a spot on your summer playlist. Kearney speak/sings the verses, making it reminiscent of the best tracks on Nothing Left to Lose, and builds to the album's biggest chorus. Opener and first single "Hey Mama" gets things started with an irresistable summer-esque vibe and a classic Kearney hook, but doesn't make much sense as a lead single next to a song as good as "Ships".

"Sooner or Later" continues in the same poppy vein, with a chorus that blends the best of City of Black and White with Kearney's new beat heavy sound. On the chorus, Kearney sings in a smooth falsetto that, when mixed with the beat and production, gives the song an almost dancey vibe. "Learning to Love Again" is Kearney in his element, a laid back acoustic-based track that sounds like it could have fit with the more straightforward moments of Nothing Left to Lose or with the final few tracks of City of Black and White. The echoing harmonies throughout are reminiscent of the chilling closing moments of the last record, and add a subtle beauty to an already good song. The song kicks off the stellar second half of the record, continuing into "Down", which opens with a jangly guitar riff that recalls "Mr. Jones" by the Counting Crows and builds into an anthem, while "She Got the Honey" might have the record's most memorable hook.

In true Mat Kearney fashion, he saves two of his finest, more subdued songs for last. The first, "Rochester", was released a year ago as part of the Black Swan Shadow EP, a vinyl EP that Kearney sold only on his acoustic tour. Mat played the song almost nightly on that tour, alongside a slowed down cover of Bruce Springsteen's "Dancing in the Dark", so perhaps it's appropriate that "Rochester" finds Mat Kearney playing up his Springsteen influence in an obvious way for the first time. The song, a gorgeous piece of acoustic storytelling, is extremely reminiscent of Nebraska-era Bruce, most specifically the song "Highway Patrolman". Springsteen recorded that record on an 8-track in his bedroom, painting a stark portrait of the trials and tribulations of middle class America, and Mat's song clearly owes a lot to it, both in sound and in tone. Mat spins a tale (his father's) of escapism and redemption, two themes that Bruce is no stranger to, and the result is probably the best song on the record.

The gorgeous "Seventeen" is technically a bonus track, but it functions perfectly a closer, as it epitomizes the themes of the album. Young Love is an album about the wonderment and naivety of falling in love for the first time and about the dreams you have as a kid before life gets in the way. Kearney has said that he tried to write from a more innocent perspective, and the result is a record that is very hopeful throughout. The final moments of “Seventeen” find him coming back to the innocence and wonderment of young love, even though he’s grown up, experienced pain and suffering and recognized how hard life can sometimes get. The song takes the album out on its most hopeful note, and there could be no more perfect finale to Kearney’s record than that.

Young Love isn't Kearney's best record: I think that title still belongs to Nothing Left to Lose, but Kearney has become one of my favorite artists working today, simply on the basis of two (and now three) terrific albums with sounds and themes that are always tweaked a bit, but remain familiar enough to be welcoming. Only time will tell if Young Love will reach the same level for me as the other two, but for now, it stands as one of my favorite records in what has been an extraordinarily strong year for music, and a big part of the soundtrack to my summer. If Kearney's next three records are half as good as these three, he'll be one of those guys I follow for a long time. Here's hoping.

Recommended If You LikeAugustana, Joshua Radin, catchy pop songs with a folk tinge


http://furtherfromthesky.blogspot.com/
 
Displaying posts 1 - 5 of 5
08:40 AM on 08/24/11
#2
simplejack
Soundtrack of My Silence
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It's a freaking long review. By the way, after awhile songs start to sound alike. They share the same vibe with OneRepublic's Good Life. But I agree with you, Ships in the Night is a good song. Could be a hit.
10:07 AM on 08/24/11
#3
Craig Manning
Down in Jungleland
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It's a freaking long review. By the way, after awhile songs start to sound alike. They share the same vibe with OneRepublic's Good Life. But I agree with you, Ships in the Night is a good song. Could be a hit.
It was longer before. I don't think the songs on here run together much: I felt that way more with City of Black and White (though I don't anymore). And I don't like OneRepublic, but I don't know that song, so I can't speak to their similarities.
04:33 AM on 08/25/11
#4
DXH
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The review is very well-written! It really sums up my opinion of the album.
Mat Kearney truly is one of the most talented songwriter of this decade.
Have you checked out his first release Bullet? I think it's even a little bit better than Nothing Left To Lose. It features a little more of the hiphop elements. It really is his masterpiece.
08:14 AM on 08/25/11
#5
Craig Manning
Down in Jungleland
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The review is very well-written! It really sums up my opinion of the album.
Mat Kearney truly is one of the most talented songwriter of this decade.
Have you checked out his first release Bullet? I think it's even a little bit better than Nothing Left To Lose. It features a little more of the hiphop elements. It really is his masterpiece.
Thanks!
Yeah, I've got Bullet. I like it a lot, but I think since I heard Nothing Left to Lose, nothing can top in for me. Bullet has a lot of the best stuff from NLTL, as well as a bunch of other great songs, but "Can't Break Her Fall" and "What's a Boy to Do" elevate NLTL for me.

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