Anyone throwing on Youff’s fourth full-length album, Heydays, better strap in before pressing play. This is a 33 minute bareback ride on a wild horse intent on throwing you off and by the end of it you’ll feel like you’re mostly made of jelly. This Belgian noise rock band is all jangly guitar riffs, frantic drumming, angry bass lines and rabid shouting from the get go and it’s fantastic. Formed in 2014 as a duo, Youff have evolved over the years to include more members, with Heydays being the first to see the band as a five piece. The band themselves see Youff as more of an artistic amalgamation of an ever changing line-up and sourcing of fresh ideas to create, in their own words, a ‘filthy stew’ of noise.
From the audibly caustic opening track “Third Body” the band makes things uncomfortable. Saturated guitar riffs driven forward by a pummeling rhythm section knocks the listener on their ass. The madness is amplified almost instantly with the vocalist’s pennant for high pitched warbling and yelling. If you don’t have to visibly unclench your jaw every once in a while then turn the volume up.
Youff’s guitarists employ great dissonant riffs that create a swirling, grating effect. Good examples of this can be found in “Totem” and “Sunshine”. In particular, the latter song is one of the denser songs on the album with bass and drums pounding away relentlessly. The rhythm section is the backbone of Heydays and without it the album wouldn’t have the groove and pace that it needs to support the weirdness on display.
And the vocals in particular are, well, they are definitely weird. Going between high pitched, effeminate warbling to hardcore punk yelling and spoken word sections that are made incomprehensible with fuzz, the vocalist has ‘range’, if you want to call it that. Yet it’s a word that, I think, is doing him a disservice. No performance really sums up the vocal style better than “Uhmigduhluh”. This is guy outside your supermarket yelling sweet nothings into the cold night sky.
This is as good a moment as any to touch on the Youff’s sound over the years. Stylistically, there is a very obvious development across albums. Previous albums, such as Et Cetera, have a noticeably heavier, thicker bass tone. While, earlier releases such as MEH and the Spit EP have more in common with The Body and Full of Hell. Heydays on the other hand tends to align itself closer to weirdo noise acts like Lightning Bolt. There is a notable punkish fury to this noise-y ensemble that is interspersed with brief moments of melody and it works wonderfully.
The beauty, for me at least, in noise rock tends to be in each musician creating periods of pure insanity before somehow finding a moment of cohesion. Youff have really put this ebb and flow between noise and melody to good use during Heydays, providing unexpected moments of magic. Still furious and difficult pieces of music, yet beautiful all the same.
It’s at the end of the aforementioned “Sunshine” that I think this album really, well, shines. The previous six songs have shred the listeners nerves, and while there’s no true respite from the insanity, the title track “Heydays” kicks in and showcases a more melodic version of the band’s sound.
That’s not to say that this takes a turn towards a pop album. It does, however, show a group of musicians that know how to write a melody if they want to. This is something that is apparent when we look at the backgrounds of the members in the group, who cut their teeth on the Belgian music scene in other noisy, boisterous groups like Crowd of Chairs and 30,000 monkies. This ‘melody as a counterpoint’ idea is reinforced on album closer “Foreveroptimist”. The same musical identity is here. Dissonant, scattered brained guitar riffs, chunky rhythm sections, and a furious vocal delivery. However, closing out, the song takes a turn. Melody takes the forefront through chanted gang vocals and there is a musical union of both noise, anger, and beauty.
There’s a lot on offer with Youff’s Heydays for those who can stand the intensity that the band puts on display. Fans of having their brains turned to mush would be good to check this one out. Like the age old saying goes ‘If you can’t stand the heat…’, well, get out the fucking kitchen. Youff are cooking up their lovely filth stew and it’s nearly dinner time. Bon appetit.
Artist photo by Leon De Backer.