The artificial synth-horn tones and repurposed Prince beat that begin "Shapeless," the first song on Nashville-via-Brooklyn band Wild Cub's debut album Youth, would seem to set the tone for an album of updated '80s synth pop viewed through an indie lens. This is at least partially true, as there's an '80s reference point on almost each of this lengthy album's 15 tracks. Principle singer/songwriter Keegan DeWitt's vocals draw on Peter Gabriel, Bowie, and even some Achtung Baby-era Bono-isms on the swimmy downer ballad "Drive." New Order-seeped guitar melodies, John Hughes soundtrack nostalgia, and bouncy retro-electro rhythms also funnel into the heavy '80s influence, but apart from these familiar elements, DeWitt and his multi-instrumentalist partner Jeremy Bullock manage to take each track into unexpected places without losing the overall thread. Individually, every song seems to be exploring a wildly different territory than the others, evidenced in the disparity between the cheesy guitar noodling and Phil Collins reimagining of "Hidden in the Night" and the bounding, feel-good clarity of songs like "Windows," "Wild Light," or the shamelessly romantic and endlessly catchy "Thunder Clap." Similarly "Straight No Turns" is built around a dancy beat so hypnotic it almost becomes a club track on its extended fade-out, but blurs into almost ambient dreaminess a few songs later on the decidedly more organic tune "The Water." While each song seems to be trying on dramatically different ideas and styles, they all gel when taken as a whole. DeWitt's melodies seem to cycle and repeat throughout the album, giving cohesion to the songs as they amble between direct pop hooks and aimless experimenting. Themes of burning, youthful love and its uncontrollable urgency come through louder than any production choice on Youth. Similar to the cloudy nostalgia of M83 or the melodramatic yet heartfelt howling of the Arcade Fire at their most sincere, Wild Cub taps into a specific emotional thread and rides it throughout every single song here. While certain songs definitely stand on their own, the ability to capture a feeling throughout is what makes the album memorable and worthy of repeat listening.
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AllMusic Review by Fred Thomas