On first listen, this deeply talented singer-songwriter's third full-length album is almost overwhelming, such is its embarrassing wealth of beguiling melodies, effervescent arrangements and endearing almost-love songs. But each time I press "play," it gets better, and now I find myself looking forward to each new track as the previous one fades. It's just a lot to take in.
Produced by longtime collaborator Dan Romer (who has also worked with Ingrid Michaelson, among others), An Unwavering Band of Light is Youngs' first independent album after two on the label Nettwerk. It was financed by a modest Kickstarter campaign. The tunes vary from straight-ahead power-pop to punky, riff-laden barn-burners, with occasional detours for Tom Waits-style junkshop blues. Throughout, her sense of melodic invention is intact.
So is an outlook that seems balanced between healthy pessimism and abiding hope. She often cannily cloaks dark lyrics in cheery tunes. As pop-shiny and upbeat as "Love for Long" is, her message is to enjoy love while it lasts, which is not forever—at least not this time.
On "Born to Lose," Youngs plays spaghetti-Western-style guitar while mariachi horns share space with a vaguely ethnic groove that seems to somehow find common ground between a Balkan stomp and calypso. "Sleep Machine" alternates dainty melodic passages with booming cacophony, like a nightmare that is unsettling, but somehow inviting.