Young Guv

Guv I

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Working under the Young Guv name, it's never clear what Ben Cook's restless musical soul is going to do next. He's made lo-fi indie pop, slickly cooked bedroom R&B, and throbbing new wave in the past, and sometimes all three at once. On 2019's Guv 1, Cook sets his sights on re-creating the glory days of early-'90s power pop and does it masterfully. The record sounds like Teenage Fanclub recording in a broom closet, or Sloan in a garden shed, mainlining Big Star hooks and gulping soda pop fizz as they knock out pristine, chiming, lovely tunes one after the next. Cook and a small band of collaborators work this magic by using rich layers of jangling guitar, vocals -- both winsome leads and sweet harmonies -- and rock-solid rhythms to construct a shimmering, homemade sound that's evidence that no matter how many times it seems that power pop is buried for good, there's always some weirdo ready to dig it back up and show the old-timers some new(ish) tricks. Cook has done his homework and shows off his knowledge on the stately boogie of "Every Flower I See"; the 12-string packed "Luv Always," which sounds like the song Matthew Sweet has been looking for to jumpstart his career; the murky college rock "Roll wit Me," and "Didn't Even Cry," a melancholy ballad that makes Cook's devotion to Big Star's Chris Bell very clear. Sure, he's got the skills down, but he's not just aping what his teachers told him, he's putting his own heart and soul into the work. He also gives the power pop formula an important twist that helps him stand out from all the others who have tried to breathe life into the style over the years. While the songs would no doubt sound perfectly good with more sonic buffering and a spotless studio sheen, the rough edges and slightly unfinished feel of Guv 1 give it a wobbly, very human feel that's too often missing in power pop. Pair this interesting sound with some songs that are going to be lodged deep in the brains of those lucky enough to hear them and Cook has come up with a true work of tiny, very specific genius. Take the tapes back in time to 1992 or so, and Young Guv would be right in holy firmament of that era's power pop scene right next to Mr. Sweet, Teenage Fanclub, Sloan, and Velvet Crush. Maybe even slightly ahead, or at least a little to the left, of a few of them. It's certainly the best power pop anyone is likely to hear in 2019.

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