Some critics have chided Chicago bedroom-pop musician Colin Caulfield, a.k.a. Young Man for replicating Panda Bear without adding his own aesthetic twist. That opinion seems unmerited, not just because some of his colleagues are doing similar things and receiving substantial plaudits, but also considering his musical output thus far and his capacity for growth. This becomes most apparent when listening to “Strangers,” which Caufield, a newly signed member of the Frenchkiss roster, issued recently via My Old Kentucky Blog.
“Strangers” begins like a fairy tale limerick echoing deep inside a wishing well. It quickly morphs into a carefree, West African-guitar romp through the fields. On repeat listens, the synthetic drum hits during the cut’s back-end connect on a threatening level. The lyrical conceit here is rudimentary, though, as a mother shouts to her children from the stoop: “Don’t talk to strangers while you’re gone.” So, yes, Young Man (choice moniker, by the way) sort of taps into that disembodied, Panda Bear-meets-Grizzly Bear vibe that his critics point out, but he’s much more than a copy cat.
Firstly, his floaty melody jolts across the pleasure centers of your brain during “Strangers.” If that doesn’t grab your by the collar, Caufield will impress you with his patience. He could have easily jumped right into the song’s shambolic (and better) second-half, but he lets the anticipation simmer. This is the kind of songwriting choice you would expect from a veteran, well-versed in the studio and on stage.
Coincidentally, “Strangers” serves as a tipping point in Young Man’s career. Where his Boy EP was understandably demo-like and rushed into release, this new tune portends a musical career beyond a popular YouTube page with blog-baiting covers of Ariel Pink, Beach House, and Bon Iver.
Young Man quickly gathered rave reviews from blogs far and wide for his early viral tunes, Panda Bear covers, and blessings from indie vets such as Bradford Cox. (For concrete proof, check out his organ-grinding cover of “Rainwater Cassette Exchange.”)
What immediately struck many listeners (myself included) about Caulfield’s songcraft was his aura of benign innocence. This type of Peter Pan-esque tweeness runs straight through much of chillwave, lo-fi, and indie-pop. Recent blog bands such as Cults, Summer Camp, Toro y Moi, and Real Estate exhibit some of these songwriting habits. It’s a refreshing slant that manages to not sound cloying for Young Man and his contemporaries.
Those artists have their obvious influences, and listeners are quick to give them a get-out-of-jail-free card. Young Man deserves the same latitude. He’s starting down his own path. Keep your eye on him, and maybe next time it won’t be accompanied with a raised eyebrow.
The “Strangers” single drops in digital format this week, and Boy is available now via Frenchkiss.
– by Kyle Lemmon