It takes about a minute and a half for Young Hunting’s debut album, Hazel, to get started. Opening with the lusciously slick “Into Yr Mind”, the Los Angeles quintet are in no hurry whatsoever; a gentle shimmer of meditative synths and soft drum beat ushering us into the world of Hazel. A guitar jumps in and though it first hints at an upcoming show of strength, that too quickly bows to the band’s overarching style and Hazel’s formidable forte; the sudden burst of electricity makes its speedy statement before finding its place in the smooth current that runs throughout this album of serenely epic proportions.
Much of Hazel’s strengths are attributable to vocalist Hari Rex’s rich timbre. Expressive, textured and aided by the equally vivid vocals of fellow guitarist Ilya Mxx, Rex’s full-bodied croon provides character and personality to Young Hunting’s pained tranquillity. Mxx and Rex being the band’s principal songwriters, the duo’s dynamic is cohesively effective and that much is evident on the effortless aura Young Hunting purport and exude whether it’s in Hazel’s composition or its delivery.
Hazel’s narrative deals primarily in broken relationships and fading romances but in Young Hunting’s heart, the hurt is neither scornful nor vindictive but blissfully lush: troubled love adorned with silky trappings of down-tempo ballads and soft, sweet melodies. “I tell myself what I want to know, the same old hate reinvented slow,” Ilyas sings on standout “Maze” retelling a spurned affair: “Remember me as your third man and you will be my best-made plans.” But for all of Hazel’s rejection and ache, there’s no over-indulgence or disdain; indeed Young Hunting wallow in their pain and dejection, but rather than bog down the listener, it serves to intensify the emotion, refining the band’s lyrical blade and sharpening Hazel’s narrative.
Take, for example, the soaring sense of loss and desperation on “Sweet Bird” as the words “My world is deflating and you just keep on running […] straight into midnight where I cannot find you,” are constantly rephrased and reiterated throughout the track until it reaches its towering climax; Rex’s fraught plea of “where have you flown to?” rising up to the clouds before gracefully descending down to calm waters that run through Haxel’s twisting waterways and romances. The playful prose twists common clichés as on “Sweet Bird” with its use of “Let’s make one thing as clear as crystal” or on the powerful “Rust” where Rex sings “loose lips long to sink ships,” throwing in some spirited alliteration that tease about with the phrase’s sibilance.
“Rust” is about as tumultuous as Young Hunting gets; Hazel‘s peaceful waters reach a fevered high as the waves crash and guitars surge with an urgency that though communicative of forceful power still maintains the band’s restful atmosphere. And it’s this steady ebb and flow of serenity and soft stillness that briefly give way to strong brash currents that allow Hazel to be so potently expressive without painting the same picture over and over again. The stripped back “Annabelle” is a more minimalistic affair, yet it’s just as vigorous as the preceding “Rust”, with Miles Senzaki’s ominous drums and Rex’s breathy delivery. The unexpected jamming that follows the usual proceedings of smooth verses, reflectively insightful lyricism and Rex’s deep vocal purr and growl on “Baby’s First Steps” is a refreshing addition of vibrant colour and adventurousness. There’s a touch of brass on finale “Ride On” and the percussive flourishes throughout are a welcome dash of bold instrumentation.
In its sonic makeup, Young Hunting is undeniably comfortable with how Hazel is paced and delivered, the rhythms and melodies crafted to fortify both the Rex and Mxx’s vocals and the aesthetic of genteel tenderness with regards to both the subject-matter as well as the musicality of Hazel. It’s an album that plays very well to Young Hunting’s strengths and provides a brilliantly emotive and soothing platform for the band to showcase their talent and promise.