With their 2012 album Dub Egg, Austin quartet the Young moved the indie guitar sprawl of their earlier albums into a trippy, carefree portrait of wild-hearted summertime abandon. Dub Egg was the band's first album for Matador and seemed like an idealistic, sometimes naive expression of relatively happy times and the promise of new possibilities just on the horizon. Two years later, the arrival of third album Chrome Cactus marks another shift for the Young, wiping away any of the soft-focused celebration or dumbstruck bliss of their last album and replacing it with ten slabs of sharper, darker fare. This is not a case of a group sounding like an entirely different band from record to record. Chrome Cactus still has hints of the fuzz-guitar frenzy and punky psychedelia that has graced all of their albums, especially notable on the glowering guitar tones that undercut pulsating tunes like "Chrome Jamb" or the spiraling death rock groove of "Dressed in Black." Tracks like "Cry of Tin," still brimming over with raw guitars, feel more minimal and direct, merging the straightforward approach of post-hardcore acts like Lungfish or Drive Like Jehu with Sonic Youth's eerie, guitar-bending melodicism. Likewise, album-opener "Metal Flake" is a churning riff-fest, borrowing its repetitive swagger from the Stooges and coiling its tense dynamics around dark, lyrical sentiments like "I'm wasted because it's routine." Even with the darker tones that permeate the effort, Chrome Cactus doesn't always feel like an implicitly more serious chapter of the Young's catalog. The sterile, monotonous push of "Ramona Cruz" is broken up by trash can percussion and caustically processed guitar soloing, sounding like a Krautrock version of Spoon on a serious bummer. The experimentalism that worked in favor of earlier albums is still very much alive here, it just takes on a more desperate color. If Dub Egg felt like the hazy, happy moments of a summer road trip, Chrome Cactus is that same road trip, only a few days in without any sleep, lost somewhere on a remote highway late at night, and questioning everything without finding any acceptable answers.
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AllMusic Review by Fred Thomas