Youth. finds Kalle Mattson looking back on his adolescence all the while moving forward into his future.
Traditional thinking says that adolescence is life’s major transition period; it’s the time when kids shed their childish ways and assume the sober responsibilities of adulthood. The reality is that life is one long series of transitions: between wake and sleep, crawling and walking, talking and babbling; between singlehood and being in a relationship; work and retirement; life and death.
Kalle Mattson knows transitions well. One of the most significant in the 27-year-old’s life was his mother’s death when Mattson was in his mid-teens, a period in his life documented on 2014’s Someday, The Moon Will Be Gold. Mattson’s innate storytelling-through-songwriting abilities described what it’s like to have change thrust upon you by circumstances beyond one’s control while displaying a maturity beyond his years. Someday, The Moon Will Be Gold also represented a musical transition from its predecessor, 2011’s Anchors — a rootsy, Wilco-esque record that was the last Kalle Mattson album billed as a band.
Youth., Mattson’s latest transition, is more like a transmogrification. While boldly declaring “Folk is dead,” Mattson has made an intimate, whisper of a record. The foundation continues to be Mattson’s impeccable song sketches, acoustic demos upon which Mattson and producer Colin Munroe apply bold brush strokes of synths, processed beats, and twilight atmospherics. Through Mattson and Munroe’s machinations, folk is not dead, but reborn. Opener “Once” is a fairytale fractured by youthful angst and anxiety. Filtered through a dreamy, gauzy lens, it sets Youth.’s cinematic tone: a blown-out, indie film album all about realizing that you’ve become an adult while you were busy hanging on to your youth. The beat and feel of infectious single “Kids On the Run” is reminiscent of another millennial earworm, Peter Bjorn and John’s ubiquitous 2006 single “Young Folks”.
The skittering 808 beat of “Searching for Somewhere” is about as far from acoustic-strummed folk as you can get without employing a bass drop, and yet it perfectly suits this poignant paean to generational malaise and the ambitious yearnings of an artist metamorphosing in real-time. The grown-up resolve of “Without You” best demonstrates Mattson’s growing confidence and creativity. Underscored by mournful horns, elegantly brushed drums, and a finger-plucked acoustic guitar, it is a timeless ballad — classic in its simplicity and delivery, shocking in its bold conclusion.
If folk is dead and pop is a watered down catch-all that’s no longer relevant to a generation weaned on streams and one-off singles, in what box do we put Kalle Mattson’s Youth., a record determined not to be pigeonholed? Youth., like its creator, is an ever-evolving work-in-progress, a snapshot that finds Kalle Mattson looking back on his adolescence all the while moving forward into his future. Put it in the box with other albums that defy description and transcend genres; file it under instant classic and effortless listening.