Sat June 18, Crocodile, 9 pm, $8 adv.
If you could gauge a band's earnestness by how long it milks a dramatic guitar lick, Australian indie foursome Youth Group would be a pack of hardhearted, unsmiling motherfuckers. Just listen and notice how much of the song "Shadowland," which opens its U.S. debut album Skeleton Jar, is built around guitarists Toby Martin and Cameron Emerson-Elliott repeating a measure of three or four sympathetic notes on two strings apiece. The chiming tones bounce back and forth while Martin delivers wry, Tim Booth-style vocals detailing feelings of isolation. The piece swirls and builds around emerging chords until everything erupts in a ringing, arena-ready chorus. That's an audio representation of your typical brooding band photograph if ever there was one.
This repeat-layer-repeat motif saturates the album, and it's nice in an overly familiar way, but Youth Group shine in the moments where they kick aside the empty bottles and travel metaphors that litter most of their songs and simply don't take themselves so damn seriously. "I feel like hell," Martin deadpans on the title cut. "You feel like dancing." As brushstroke drum thumps give way to distortion-pedal guitars, the fey "Baby Body" presents a droll character sketch of Liz, an aging, unfulfilled model. Among other crises involving public transit and clothes, she "regrets her haircut, her career-ruining haircut, she should have got it cut by a student friend." If that doesn't prompt a chuckle or two, the soccer imagery scattered throughout the bruiser anthem "Last Quarter" might. ■