Cork-based duo look fit to burst with their wistfully glittering electropop
If you haven’t yet heard of Young Wonder, by the end of the summer you won’t be able to shake them. If you like gorgeous electropop with a dramatic female vocal, shimmering instrumentals and the kind of thoughtful maturity not usually reached by a pop band until Album Three, you won’t want to.
A duo comprised of singer Rachel Koeman and producer Ian Ring, Young Wonder first dipped their toes into the electronic waters with a self-titled EP in 2012, followed coyly by a six-tracker (‘Show Your Teeth’) in 2013. Now it’s the turn of ‘Birth’, their first full-length, to enter into the world.
While it shares a couple of songs with ‘Show Your Teeth’, ‘Birth’ is definitely a more grown-up release than previous outings. It feels nurtured, like Young Wonder have really been allowed to develop in the two years since their last offering. Koeman leans away from the cut-up vocals that characterised her contribution to their first record and concentrates more on singing: it’s a blessing, since her ethereal voice is the perfect accompaniment to Ring’s hip hop influenced beats.
Koeman cites such acts as Lykke Li and Warpaint as inspirations, but there’s definitely also something of Florence And The Machine about Young Wonder’s tribal drums. There are parallels to be drawn with Scottish favourites Chvrches too, as well as Grimes and Purity Ring, while outside the electronic bloodline, Welsh rockers The Joy Formidable spring to mind. Across the genre boundaries, there’s a renaissance for high-pitched female vocals, and Young Wonder are taking full advantage of that. Koeman’s reverb-filled voice echoes such foremothers as Cocteau Twins’ Elizabeth Fraser, or even, at the risk of making an Irish cliche, Sinéad O’Connor.
Lyrically, ‘Birth’ positions itself in that limbo between near-adulthood and adulthood proper, a kind of late-teens/early-20s purgatory that can be both wonderful and also so very agonising. Koeman calls out for help from many figures across the album, most notably ‘St Verena’, the patron saint of young women. With ‘Enchanted’, she implores a lover to “untie my mind”. On ‘Hear Our Cries’, which features hip hop producer extraordinaire Marcé Reazon, it is imperative that we listen to these growing pains.
The highlights of ‘Birth’ come at almost opposite ends of the record. ‘Intergalactic’ is destined to be the glittery slow-dance single of the summer, while ‘Time’ features fellow Irish musician Sacred Animals (aka Darragh Nolan) laying down some beautifully understated male vocals to complement Koeman’s theatrical wails. These two contrasting songs work as snapshots of the album as a whole, reminding you in ‘Time’ of how stuck and stagnant being young can feel, while also conveying that invincibility – “We’re intergalactic” – of youth.