Young Mister – This is Where We Are Now (Review)

On Friday, the North Carolina based indie folk artist Young Mister released a new album called This is Where We Are Now, the follow-up to 2019’s Sudden Swoon. The songs on This is Where We Are Now touch on sensitive topics like the modern political climate, religion, and the changes happening all around. Yet for the most part these topics are delivered with a gentle kindness, which coincidentally enough is how the lyrics throughout the album also suggest you react to the world. There is a warm, comforting, and hopeful feel about the music, almost like something you’d hear from Conor Oberst, minus the self-deprecation. It’s a solid record that feels like a step forward for Steven Fiore the songwriter.

Opener “The World Makes Sense Again” introduces with a broad stroke the themes that you’ll hear throughout the record. It’s an introspective tune that speaks to the negativity that seems to be out there in the world, and how it can be overwhelming at times. It’s about the need to find grounding during these times, and finding that grounding in the comforting presence of a loved one. Steven circles back and zooms in on many of these topics over the course of This is Where We Are Now, which becomes an album about trying to find your way through an unfamiliar and confusing world.

After that we’ve got the excellent single “Run Away With Me”, which I’ve already said reminds me of Tom Petty, followed by standout song “Invisible Man”.

“Invisible Man” stands out first of all because of the slow and relaxed tempo. It’s not in a hurry to get anywhere at all, and we don’t have a problem with that because it feels easygoing and comfortable, with angelic electric guitar hovering over top of gentle acoustic guitar and drums. The lyrics question the validity of conventional religion from a perspective of personal experience, growing up in church and seeing first hand some of the hate spewed by so-called “holy people”. Still, though, it’s hard to let go of the feeling that there’s something else out there: “There has got to be something, but it’s probably not / an invisible man with a plan in the sky”.

Title track “This Is Where We Are Now” addresses the old world notion of white supremacy and just overall lack of empathy in American society, and celebrates the change and progress that has been made, and will continue to be made. Appropriately enough it’s got an alt-country feel to it that makes me want to hear Young Mister featuring Justin Osborne of SUSTO.

“It Takes A Fire” is the shortest track on the record, and also the most cutting lyrically. If there is anger anywhere on This is Where We Are Now, it’s buried inside of this song. The lyrics bring to mind the protests and riots of 2020 that served as a much-needed wake up call to many people in America. The music is driving and layered with synth that allows the frustration in Steven’s voice to shine through. “Sometimes it takes a fire to see the light”, he sings, suggesting that it wouldn’t have had to come to a riot if there wasn’t so much stubborn ignorance on the other side of things, and that perhaps now is the time for people to come together and cooperate toward a better future.

As for the last two songs on This is Where We Are Now, well, I can take them or leave them. “Both Sides” was released as a single on Election Day and it feels sort of contrived, almost like a musical version of a political Facebook argument. While we can all agree with the sentiment and the frustration about division and feeling like the wrong side of history is so obvious, perhaps it would have been better to keep this one as a standalone Election Day release and just leave it off the album.

“My Phone” is a song about how phone addiction has amplified during the months stuck at home during quarantine. It expresses missing friends and wishing to have fun times together again, imagining a time “when the world stops ending”. Lyrics that are overtly about cell phones have always made me cringe and these are no different, although I do enjoy the chorus.

Overall, though, I’ve been following this project for several years now, since 2017 and the Soft Rock EP, and I have to say I’ve found myself more impressed with each successive release. It seems like Steven has become more comfortable with being open and personal with his songwriting, and has also found a warm & cozy production style that suits him as a musician very well.

Other than the two songs that don’t really do it for me, I would say that This Is Where We Are Now is the best album, both from a songwriting and a production standpoint, that Young Mister’s Steven Fiore has released to date. And yes, that includes the popular 2016 self-titled album, which has good songs but sounds like it was produced in the bottom of an empty beer can. I’ll give it a 7/10.

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