Glaswegian trio PAWS' 2012 debut album, Cokefloat!, was drenched in by-the-numbers '90s influences, the band working out angsty feelings with cathartic rock jams from the school of Dinosaur Jr. and Sonic Youth with the occasional Weezer-ly hook thrown in for good measure. The multicolored distortion and sticky choruses of the album never got too far beyond their fascination with '90s indie rock, but were inspired enough to not just sound like rejected submissions to the Reality Bites soundtrack. PAWS make a few changes to their approach on sophomore album Youth Culture Forever, with songs that suggest steps toward both emotional and musical maturity. Recorded with Mice Parade founder Adam Pierce, the album retains the caustic distortion of Cokefloat! but sounds more dynamic, with funereal, melodramatic dirges like "Alone" sharing space with explosive rockers like "Someone New." PAWS also veer away from noise rock toward their more sensitive side, leaning less on Dinosaur Jr. and more to the Sebadoh side of their spectrum of influences. The vocals sometimes even seem to channel Lou Barlow's tunes of insecure crushes and schoolboy neuroticism, especially on the dreamy-eyed "Owls Talons Clenching My Heart" or "YCF," an acoustic number with the same shambling bedroom ambience of Barlow's solo Sentridoh material or the broken four-track tenderness of Eric's Trip. The straightforward and jaunty indie rock songs are still where PAWS shine, as with the short but sweet singsong melodicism of "Tongues" and the rough-around-the-edges pop brilliance of "An Honest Romance." An epic, moody grunge jam closes out the album and perfectly punctuates the chapter of PAWS' slow evolution that is Youth Culture Forever. Without drastically cleaning up their act, the album turns in a subtler, more thoughtful take on some of the same contradictory themes of enthusiasm and bitterness that made their debut so enjoyable.
AllMusic Review by Fred Thomas