In rock's formative decades, bands cultivated a signature sound, but these days it's not uncommon for groups to take an almost perverse pride in their wacky mix of influences. But you don't have to go on SoundCloud and check out the latest EDM-Klezmer-field holler-jam band to know that more does not always equal better.
Youth League purveys an industrial-strength mash-up of post-rock, math rock, shoegaze, emo, and alt rock that could easily go off the rails, but instead the music stays vital and visceral. That owes to the sense of commitment evident in the music and the band's rejection of the temporal excesses of its easy-to-spot forebears.
It's the project of Mike Large, who sings and plays guitar, and his brother Zach Large on drums. Before settling in Durham, the pair led Wilmington's Virgin Lung, a prog outfit that mostly played instrumentals. Some of that approach remains in the intricately constructed passages of Youth League, a trio with bassist Jaffar Castillon-Martinez since 2015.
The self-explanatory Second EP, released in July on Cardigan Records, is marked by antic energy, widescreen atmosphere, and admirable concision: of six songs, three are under three minutes. The band works up a head of steam, sometimes with pummeling force, sometimes with glinting guitar webs, and always with a palpable sense of purpose.
Youth League delights in messing with traditional song structure, but the occasionally drastic shifts in tempo and mood don't get in the way of the music's propulsive momentum. The rousing opener "Eat Trash Be Free" rides a serpentine tapped guitar figure and explodes in the manner of a Foo Fighters blast, replete with urgent drums and an anthemic join-in chorus. Up next, the EP's single, "Stay Lame," is propelled by an insinuating vocal melody, a significant step beyond the gang vocals of the previous EP. Bursting with glinting guitar interplay, "D-" ends the EP on a gorgeous note of triumph, appropriate for a promising band that's hitting its stride.