100 for 2000 – #83. Youth Group – The Night Is Ours

To end another wonderful decade of great music, I’m going to write about ten albums from each of the last ten years, that are either great, or hold some sort of personal significance. A musical kiss off to 00s.

2008 – #3. Youth Group – The Night Is Ours
(Ivy League)

This is the fourth time Youth Group have been written about since I started this decade list. I’ve been trying to figure out which are the songs and bands of the decade, and using this little exercise to help. One clear winner so far is Youth Group, my favourite Australian band. No one came close, and they knocked it out of the park again with The Night Is Ours.

Their last record, Casino Twilight Dogs, was huge on the production and the pop hooks. This record strips it all back. It’s darker, murkier and out of focus. It was recorded on, of all things, a disused ship docked on Sydney Harbour. The isolation and ocean imagery lives through the entire record. It’s a weird record, in a wonderfully moody and mysterious way.

Amazing to chart this band’s journey. They started as the poppiest of the indie pop bands, and four albums later, here we are, with bizarre, jagged, indie-dance of things like Two Sides. The album is bookended with two of the most dramatic things they’ve ever done. The slow burning Good Time greets us, with nary a guitar in sight, and ends with the rush of What Is A Life?

My favourite song on here is one of Toby Martin‘s best. Babies In Your Dreams is a piano ballad about having kids – a wonderful melody, a mystery and some of Martin’s best lyrics.

The lines go deep
The dough is set
We harden into our parents

One of many great images that permeate this record. Martin‘s definitely found new life in his lyrical muse. Lines come out at you…

Others are cruxifix.

Your lips speak Italian

I wonder, if he’s still with his wife?

It’s a dense record of such moments. It’s a beautiful, twilight record. It’s  great one to put on as you leave work, the sun is starting to set, and you’re far from home.

I’ve gone on about this band a lot. They mean a lot to me. It seems they are taking a break right now, and I hope it doesn’t last. I’m not sure if they fulfilled their professional dreams, but they made four perfect albums in the last decade. There’s only a handful of bands in the history of music can say that.

If you had 40 lives/you’d get it right by the 39th. How someone comes up with such stuff is beyond me, and I’ve marveled at that talent for a decade. Youth Group’s All This Will Pass.

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100 for 2000 – #64. Youth Group – Casino Twilight Dogs

To end another wonderful decade of great music, I’m going to write about ten albums from each of the last ten years, that are either great, or hold some sort of personal significance. A musical kiss off to 00s.

2006 – #4. Youth Group – Casino Twilight Dogs
(Ivy League)

Yup. Why, it’s another Youth Group album. Casino Twilight Dogs was probably their big chance at mainstream success, having had their cover of Alphaville‘s Forever Young featured on the OC. It was a number one single, and the guys even toured with Coldplay.

A few words about Forever Young. Now, I had no idea how hated this band were until Forever Young hit the airwaves. The amount of jealousy and anger people had at this band because of their success was shocking to me. That they were the best band in Australia at the time didn’t seem to matter. Because they were on a cool label they got all the chances.

(I would think they were the lowest selling artists on Ivy League who made more than one record, but why let facts get in the way)

So, yes, it’s a cover. But that is the schtick for the OC. Having worked on a couple of those soundtracks, they are full of cover versions. Also, Forever Young is a great song. It’s a weird doomed prom night teen suicide song – and the Youth Group version, which slowed it down and added sweetness and menace, was an interesting take.

All the fuckers who hated them knew far too much about the OC. The tall poppy syndrome was in full force. And finally, the fact this song got to number one shows how much Australia is a little America. I mean, I could not hate the OC any more than I do, and it just wrapped up a generation. We are sheep.

In the end, Forever Young is the last track on this record, and I think of it as a separate thing. The delights of this album come from all the other songs, some of Toby Martin‘s finest.

The biggest problem with Casino Twilight Dogs is that it sounds like a compilation. It jumps around a bit, from the opening Catching And Killing, a strange, jagged song that’s almost like the Fall. Then there’s Start Today Tomorrow, one of Martin‘s most beautiful songs, backed by a string quartet. And there’s everything in between.

Martin lost none of his ability to express big emotions. Let It Go (which oddly was left off the international version) nods to Dylan, but is about sweet release. Similarly, Daisychains is a gorgeous apology to an abandoned lover. I would be on the balcony at work, listening to these two songs as I had my regular cigarette, wondering if I could actually pack it all in.

Th album trails off at the end. There are a few too many mid tempo pop rockers. And there are great songs, but it’s probably their weakest album overall. It was still easily one of the ten best of 2006.

Success did not come knocking after all. Youth Group bunkered down and continued on.

100 for 2000 – #43. Youth Group – Skeleton Jar

To end another wonderful decade of great music, I’m going to write about ten albums from each of the last ten years, that are either great, or hold some sort of personal significance. A musical kiss off to 00s.

2004 – #3. Youth Group – Skeleton Jar.
(Ivy League)

I am claiming this one: I was chatting to Toby from Youth Group about the album, and he said he didn’t know what to name it. I suggested Skeleton Jar, the name of one of the songs on the album. Now, I’m sure it had occurred to him. I’m sure it also occurred to others. Still, he said he thought it was a good name and a few months later, there it was – Skeleton Jar. And it was fucking unbelievably good.

Some people hate Youth Group. They have this air of being a Sydney scenester band – which is so weird because the Sydney scenesters hate Youth Group too. None of them look like Lou Reed. None of them have expensive haircuts, or wore black. They probably got a few too many of the good support slots because of their label, but they didn’t manage to ever sell that many records. Anyway, I bring this up because I can’t actually think of many people I know who love this album who are still my friends. For such a big album for me, it was a small album for the world.

There is a sadness on this album, and it wasn’t always going to be that. There had been some line up changes. And with that, some of the fun, Pavement-y, Weezer-y things got lost, in favour of something darker. I was lucky to hear various demos sessions and was surprised as Toby Martin wrote more and more songs, each better than the last. It also meant that some songs I loved a few months ago were bound to get lost.

There was also personal tragedy in Martin’s life, with the recent death of his father inspiring a few songs (only one of which made the record). From this, his songwriting took to a new level. I remember Andy Cassell, from Ivy League, with no sales pitch angle involved, telling me once he just thought Toby Martin was a genius. That was before this album came out, and I was a big fan. I took that comment at face value at the time – but when this album came out I realised what Andy saw.

The collection of strange stories, images and ideas on this album are uniquely Youth Group. And it’s so surprising that these guys I could talk to at the pub about various things, could be so – there’s no other word for it – poetic. My friends bands could be clever, they could be witty – but none were brave enough to be poetic.

The album opens with Shadowland, and great pop thumper. And a great image, of some lost no man’s land, and someone trying to survive it. Later, Toby would tell me it’s about those years when you are just out of high school and you don’t know what to do. I mean, what the fuck. Most people would be literal, clever or funny. Martin came up with a term I still use, and wrapped it in a beautiful painting of chimney stacks, force fields, life coaches and watchful skies.

I don’t know what most of these songs are actually about. One I know least is Skeleton Jar, the title track that was written very late in the game. I do remember a friend of a friend’s mother died. And that first friend taking the second friend out. My friend felt like hell, but her friend felt like dancing. And she told me how, watching her friend in grief but dancing, made sense of some of the words in Skeleton Jar.

There are hundreds of these moments on this record.

I searched through your house for my skin.

She puts on a face. Makes it a brave one.

His lungs are machines, his hands are a fridge.

And it changed the way I saw my world. In the way Dylan changed the way people saw their own words. Trains, buildings, buses, trees, planes – all mentioned in these songs in such wonderful ways. And we shared the same world – this leafy, rustic Inner West.

This album is wrapped up in Sydney. It’s wrapped up in my early 20s. They recorded one more track after the album came out, and they re-released the whole thing with the new song (Someone Else’s Dream). With that, Youth Group managed to make my year-end best of compilation 3 years running (Shadowland was released as a single in 2003). It only hints at how much this band was part of my life in those times.

One last story.

That song Toby wrote about his father is Why Don’t the Buildings Cry. A gorgeous song, where the title comes from being buckled under by such sadness, that you think that, well, the buildings really should be crying as well.

When a really, really big death hit my life, I ran to my music collection for solace. Of the thousands and thousands of useless discs, vinyl, mp3s, whatever – I remember thinking that there was nothing to help me. I put on song after song about death or life or whatever, and turned each one off after a few seconds. My drug had let me down. Although the silence was even worse. No song in the world could take this confusing pain in my head and heart, wrap it into a melody and release it as a song.

Except Why Don’t the Buildings Cry.

I listened to that song over and over again and it got me through that night.

100 for 2000 – #20. Youth Group – Urban & Eastern

To end another wonderful decade of great music, I’m going to write about ten albums from each of the last ten years, that are either great, or hold some sort of personal significance. A musical kiss off to 00s.

2001 – #10. Youth Group – Urban And Eastern
(Ivy League)

Youth Group loom large over the decade. Originally from Canberra, they started off in Sydney just as I was old enough to go to gigs. They are my favourite Australian band of the last ten years. Probably tosses and turns with one other as being THE band of the decade for me. They will recur again and again on this list, but right now lets talk about their debut album Urban And Eastern.

Youth Group had released four singles by the time this album came around. They were great, they were fun, and they were already my favourite band on the Ivy League label. Then they went on tour with Gaslight Radio and Gersey and came back sounding very different. That bright little pop band now opened up to something spookier, with long guitar freak outs and moody elements.

They brought this to their debut album. Blue Leaves, Red Dust is as fine an opener as any song I’ve heard. Starting slow, it tells of a trip through the Australian countryside for a funeral, but also looking for a musical voice that’s not from “Tallahassee or Nashville”, before the song does a take off into the sky.

The funeral theme is closed out in the second last track, Spry Griever. Another 7 minute plus epic, it’s a heartbroken scream of a song. Sadder still, months after this album came out, there was a death in the family of the Youth Group ranks. Those shows immediately after were of stunning power.

In between those two, there are plenty of the quirky pop stuff that made Youth Group’s early name. Happiness’ Border has a Pavement feel but never loses Toby Martin’s unique voice (and lyrical concerns). Booth Street is the most touching love song Martin had written to date. Elsewhere, I Don’t Care, written for bassplayer Andy Cassell’s wedding day, is still a rush of fun and romance.

It’s hard to find heros in life sometimes. I loved so much music, but I didn’t actually want to be like Tim Rogers of You Am I, or Jeff Tweedy or Wilco. Or Iggy. Or Jagger. I wasn’t as tough as that – and I didn’t want to be. I was on the look out for something new – after my dalliance with po-faced alt-country – and found it with Youth Group. They were just guys in Sydney. They weren’t wacky pop stars, and they weren’t tortured artists. They weren’t Dandy Warhol type posers… they were just so natural.

And clever. Those early singles and this album especially, they looked like they were having fun. And I wanted to have fun too. I wanted to wrote witty things, and bright melodies. I wanted, like this band, to write songs that mentioned animal rennet, the Mascot ANZ and Chris De Burgh. Having loved music so much, Youth Group were really the catalyst for me to start taking seriously the business of making music. I moved to Newtown and got some decent guitars after this.

They went on to do so much more than this record, but god I saw a lot of shows where they played a lot of these songs. They got so good so fast. And as excited as I was about this record, I knew the next one would be better…

Tuesday Tunes: Youth Group -Two Sides

Youth Group - The Night Is Ours - out now

Youth Group - The Night Is Ours - out now

We are so happy that we can tell you about this song, this band and this album. Youth Group are from Sydney, Australia but are now mainly based in New York City. Their last album, The Night Is Ours, only came out in Australia and it was our album of 2008. In 2009 they have secured a US release on the world’s Fair label.

If anyone outside of Australia has heard of the band, it maybe due to their music being used in US indie shows like the OC (their cover of Alphaville‘s Forever Young was used in a key scene), and touring with the same sort of bands like Death Cab For Cutie.

They have also just announced a run of shows with a reunited Get-Up Kids. To celebrate, they are giving away the first single from the album, a track called Two Sides.

The Night Is Ours, their 4th full length, is a thoughtful, moody dark album. It was recorded on a ship in S6ydney harbour, and touches on the isolation and loneliness that was so expressed by other Australian bands like the Triffids, the Go-Betweens and Nick Cave.

That mood is not immediate on Two Sides, one of the more uptempo and rocking songs on the album (although it’s hardly rock). The 2009 version of the record also has a much better album cover. The Night Is Ours is out now.

Get the track at their site – Youth Group – http://www.youthgroup.com.au

Link is also on the World’s Fair Website – http://worlds-fair.net/news/2009/06/24/youth-group-to-join-the-get-up-kids-on-their-fall-2009-reunion-tour/

Top 10 of 2006: 4. Youth Group – Catching And Killing

4. Youth Group – Catching And Killing

The last Youth Group album, Skeleton Jar, was such a big record for me. It was the soundtrack to some big years in my life. And it’s so often you wear out a band by doing that. So, I wasn’t that excited about a new Youth Group record. I was ready to like it but not love it, add it to the collection, listen to it for a couple of months, see them live a few times, and move on.

So I was nicely surprised by how good this album is, and how it just slowly won me over.


First thing that’s striking about this record is the confidence, and then second is the economy and the cleanliness. It’s just a solid, not-flashy album. Sometimes it gets very pop, very catchy and at others it’s beautiful and intimate, but it’s never cheap sounding, everything is warm and precise.

Start Today Tomorrow sums it all up. It’s a simple Dylany/Donovany acoustic finger picked thing, and they’ve put the perfect string arrangement behind it. This is not the sound of a mid level indepedent Sydney four piece. It sounds like a classic cut from million dollar record.

But if that was all, then it would hardly make this a special record. What makes this album so special is Toby’s songs, and the things he writes about. Skeleton Jar was coated in sadness and regret. Casino Twilight Dogs is about release and in some ways, being reborn.

And this hit me on a deeply personal level this year. I listened to tracks like Let It Go, On A String, Daisychains and Sorry, and realised that I needed to change my life. And it gave me support and confidence to see those changes through once I did. Listening to Daisychains, and the sorrowful pleading of the line – “I could have spent all summer sitting here making daisychains” – it puts a lump in my throat as think of people I could have happily wasted more time with, but didn’t.

There are so many moments like that. Let It Go‘s full of them – “I will hold you as you start to slip/This will feel like dying”. And Toby Martin is still one of the great literate lyricists, referencing Panasonic, Napoleon and other random things to make his points. Still, as much as I can ramble on here about how good this album is, in the end, this album just ended up meaning a lot to me.

If you need more convincing, check out the glorious Under the Underpass, which reminds me of Springsteen’s Thunder Road with it’s sense of living young even when we might not be anymore. Or Catching And Killing, the oddest single of the year with it’s fumbling bass line and spitting surreal lyrics. It’s a great album by anyone’s standards.

One final word on Forever Young, the cover that ends this album that has exploded in Australia. It’s not their best song but it’s a spooky version of a very disturbing song. It doesn’t truly fit on this record but it’s hardly a terrible track. It ends the album on strange note – the optimism that fills the record is undercut by the idea the singer is about to kill himself and his partner. And maybe the whole album is that naive too.

I’ve worn out Skeleton Jar. It was a time and a place that is over. Casino Twilight Dogs will probably remind me of 2006 forever.

Danny Yau
London