ELECTRIC YOUTH - INNERWORLD
“Real human bean, and a real hero…”
Of course, the lyrics are wrong but it was exactly this misheard version of Electric Youth’s “Real Hero” that wormed itself into my brain during my (first of several) viewings of Drive by N.W. Refn in late September 2011. It’s been 3 years since that moment in time and although Electric Youth teased us with a couple of “sequels” of sorts to the song, they held out on pushing out an LP too quickly, instead honing it until they felt it was ready. In doing so they may have missed out on the opportunity to capitalize on that overnight glory but but managed to hold on to that essence of innocence that shined through their breakthrough single.
And it’s exactly innocence that is the central theme of the long, long awaited debut - as well as the inevitable loss of it, followed by an eventual rediscovery. With Innerworld, Electric Youth have attempted to remind us that no matter how what life throws our way, we CAN always reach for that innocence in our hearts. After all, isn’t that at least partially why we’re so stuck on this thing called “synth wave”?
This idea of innocence is reflected in every kernel of this clear labour of love - because only love could keep someone working on an album for 3-4 years, right ? It’s reflected right in the choice to stay true to core Electric Youth sound: the strong presence of the analog bass synth, the sticky lead synth hook, the melancholy, masterfully thought out harmonies. In the hands of Austin Garrick and Bronwyn Griffin (and their collaborators), this is a strength rather than a weakness as it plays smoothly into the idea of yearning for years past. Done by someone else, it would easily turn into merely a testament to a lack creative vision. Speaking of collaborators, the high definition of the final “product” is partially owed to no other than one of the fathers of synthpop - Vince Clarke of the Yazoo and Erasure fame. It’s not every day you get a personal touch of such a synth icon on a modern synth wave record and it shows.
The album opens with Before Life, an instrumental intro that at its 2:11 minutes serves as a kind of a super-distilled sample of the trademark EY sound. It’s pure atmosphere that starts from a simple smoldering arpeggio riff and slowly builds up into the full-blown mini retro symphony. Overall tone is of optimism that comes from exploration and wandering.
The second track, “Runaway”, was the last single before the release of Innerworld. It builds on the theme of wanderlust and the need to get away from the people who do not understand you. It also touches upon the sweet refuge that shared intimacy can bring, something that lifelong sweethearts Austin and Bronwyn probably know very much about.
The third track - my personal favorite for the time being - is called “WeAreTheYouth” and acts as a sort of a manifesto of the duo. It brilliantly matches the emblematic bass with a slightly unexpected progression, the exquisite, wistful synth pad with a syncopated rhythm and Bronwyn’s crisp vocals.
“We are the youth, we won’t age [..] we love to dance [...] we love to sing” - sounds like lyrics of a song from a movie about an 80s teen pop band made of Molly Ringwald, Matthew Broderick, Tom Cruise and Rob Lowe that never got made.
Yet despite its earnestness it somehow works. As manifesto-style songs are unlikely singles, we won’t get a video for “WeAreTheYouth” but we’re probably going to get a fan-made video made of Brat Pack movie clips in a matter of weeks. I can’t wait.
“Innocence” follows right after and you can’t get any more obvious about what the album is about than this song. Released as a single almost a year ago, it was played many a times on my phone and although I cannot really listen to this song that much anymore, I remember the effect it had on me.
It was a welcome return to the trademark EY bass and just struck me as perfect dreamy pop. Bitter and sweet at the same time, its somberness mixed with a touch of hope. “Where have you gone sweet innocence?” the chorus goes and it serves as a reminder of those times when we ask ourselves the same, forgetting to look inside.
“Without You” comes next and grows the yearning tone of the previous track into a more assertive narrative. It seems like Brownywyn has found herself in the role of a scorned lover but instead of dwelling any longer on the loss of innocence, she takes it straight to her former beau.
She warns him that it’s really his loss and that she will be fine, but he may regret letting her go yet. The upbeat arrangement underlines her confidence and I guess if I had to use a movie analogy, this would fit perfectly at the beginning of Flashdance 2, where we find out that the guy has been cheating on Jennifer Beals with another woman and she shows up at his doorstep.
The following track “If All She Has Is You” is actually a cover of a song by an Irish singer-songwriter John McGlynn. I can’t tell you what the original sounds like because this is the first time I actually heard the song, but the EY version really strips down the arrangement leaving out the drum section and keeps just the basic harmony along with the vocals.
As a result, the track has an introspective feel, perhaps an inside look at the break-up in the previous track. Personally I am not a big fan of this track but it works as a kind of an interlude and a welcome rest from the recurring song structure.
We sway from the loss of a lover right back into a new-found innocence in “The Best Thing”. Bassline almost ripped chord by chord from “Real Hero”? Check. Killer chorus that immediately bores into your consciousness? Check. Droves of nostalgia? Check. I currently just skip this song - but that’s only because I heard it about 4,5 million times since it was first released in 2012.
“Tomorrow” amplifies on the hope that just occasionally flashed through in previous track into a full-blown ode to new beginnings. “Tomorrow we can see it through, if not today” is all about giving yourself room to breathe and just letting things go their way and keeping a bright outlook on life.
Musically, it’s another variation of the analogue bass mixed with reverb-y synth pad but somehow it still manages to sound fresh.
Track number 9, “Another Story” is, next to track 6 perhaps the only other song on the record that feels something like a filler, although if you’re like me, you will be just happy to have an extra Electric Youth song to listen to after such a long wait. It does feel slightly out of place and like it just tells the same thing as “Tomorrow” just did, but with a better hook.
The following interlude is really just that, something in-between to hold off the inevitable closing off of the album with the larger-than-life “Real Hero” co-created with College.
Lots of today’s synth wave fans probably credit Drive OST as the first encounter with the genre (including me) so “Real Hero” really holds a special place in the hearts of many of us, I dare to say. It’s one of those tracks that even an outsider to the genre can come back to on a regular basis and hear it in a different way.
I am not sure if it really fits the overall arc of Innerworld but I do understand it was a no-brainer to include it from the label’s point of view as well as a kind of precursor to the album’s very existence.
As for the songs that weren't included, some of them are featured on the Deluxe Edition of the album (my favorite of them is the fast paced Get Along). It’s a shame that on neither versions is “Right Back to You” that was released as a single in 2011 and is a powerful example of EY’s pop songwriting capabilities and would perhaps help break up the pace of the album a little bit and add more variety (it does lag a bit in the latter half). “Nostalgia is the suffering caused by an unappeased yearning to return” said Milan Kundera once but according to Electric Youth’s overdue debut, this yearning is equal measures sweet as it is painful. This idea permeates the whole album.The odd pacing in a couple of spots and perhaps the lack of a real punch can hardly ruin the impression that the years of work on Innerworld have paid off.