Youth itself is fleeting, but youth culture will always be there for you. That quixotic faith underlies PAWS’ sophomore album, a darker, more dynamic and ultimately stronger set of songs than the Glasgow alt-rock revisionists’ scrappily emotive 2012 debut, Cokefloat! Teenage angst might pay off well, but full-blown quarter-life crisis tends to be more of a cult concern: Put Youth Culture Forever in a canon of strategic hot messes that would include Weezer’s Pinkerton, Los Campesinos!’ We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed and a handmade passive-aggressive Sebadoh mixtape.
That’s good company, which misery loves and Phillip Taylor’s development as bluntly cathartic frontman warrants. Cokefloat! was varied and intense, but its follow-up encompasses even greater extremes, with occasional dashes of cello deepening the melancholy mood. PAWS still galvanize most when they spackle their garage-punk with bubblegum, as on the terse, Wavves-like romp “Give Up.” But YCF also builds up to a closing triptych that consists of a stomping instrumental, a stripped-to-the-bone acoustic mission statement and a screaming, 11-minute woolly-guitar mammoth. This structural ambition just goes to show the stubborn optimism that glints through all the diaristic bleakness.
And bleakness there is. If morose meditation “Alone” — where “hope didn’t fade/ I killed it dead, then I dug a grave” — were a stage on the Kübler-Ross model of grief, it would be “drinking alone to make sad bastard music to drink alone to.” Taylor has said “a lot” of the album “has to do with where you’re from,” hinting at “a clichéd break-up”; it might take a certain headspace, but anyone who has ever felt hurt and adrift can find a companion here. While Taylor insists his heart will break if he sees an ex with “Someone New,” the truth is his band’s latest album will fulfill its promise best if it goes on to inspire an even-younger generation’s culture.