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Young People

Over the last decade a variety of bands, from the Dirty Three to Califone, Calexico to Cat Power, have sought to explore traditional genres and sonic textures through the filter of the avant-garde. Few have been as successful at translating this simultaneously forward- and backward-looking approach into a successful and distinctive personal style as New York City trio Young People. Other NYC bands of the moment might have more name recognition, but this is one of the most creative and compelling groups the city, indeed the country, has to offer, and with any luck we'll have them for a long time.

The backrounds of all three band members lend some insight into the development of Young People's gorgeous brand of experimental nostalgia. Vocalist Katie Eastburn grew up mostly in Nashville (with stints in Hawaii and Colorado), before migrating to San Francisco to choreograph dance and produce musicals. There she met guitarist Jeff Rosenberg of the notorious, now-defunt West Coast noise-rock duo Pink and Brown. The two completed a dance score together, then split to Berlin for awhile, then returned to California, this time LA, where they teamed with percussionist Jarrett Silberman formerly of Uphill Gardeners and co-founder of The Smell, Los Angeles's stinkiest and best spot for experimental music.

Eastburn and Rosenberg had originally intended to write and perform country songs, but once the trio was in place, Young People evolved into something richer and more complicated. The band's self-titled 2002 debut on 5 Rue Christine offered a somber sound that struck familiar chords but was altogether different from anything else around. Certainly, John Cale and Sonic Youth and original post-punk were influences, but so too were old spirituals and work songs, early century rural folk, military marches, and musical theater. Eastburn's untrained but rich and evocative voice was key to the band's originality and appeal, its flatness and unique phrasing unlocking all sorts of emotions.

Young People moved again in early 2003, this time to Brooklyn, but the new locale didn't affect their productivity as they continued performing regularly and returned with a second album, this time on the excellent Dim Mak that fall. While some reviewers took its title, War Prayers, as an explicit remark on contemporary politics, such an interpretation misses the album's poetry and kooky classicism. These songs are prayers of a sort, sometimes explicitly referencing war (see the paradigmatic "Rhumba," half drinking song, half "battle cry"), but mostly about life and spirit. Silberman's spare military-inspired percussion patterns offer a more intuitive take on the war theme, while Rosenberg's guitar parts feel like flares tossed into a dark night. The band's palette had grown on the album to include hints of show tunes and '50s pop, rockabilly and nursery rhymes set to music. The first album was full of chilly open space, which remains here, but there's also a lot more warmth. Again Eastburn's voice is crucial as Young People bring Americana into the 21st century.