Local music cornerstone the Royal American will see two album releases in one night, March 1, with the return of Charleston indie amalgams Youngster and Argot.
Youngster’s latest is their debut LP titled Rosa’s Cantina. From front to back, it’s a complete revitalization project, taking the tonal rock colors of 2015’s Extended Play and blooming its range while zooming in on the qualities that made the last release something to pay attention to.
“Getaway” shows the band escaping their own formula, with synthesizer flourishes and shoegazing guitar. They stick to a guitar-driven format, but keep the focus on the beat and musical textures, which are decidedly Reagan-era new wave upon first glance.
“Private Party” sees Youngster doing a track for lost-in-thought wallflowers everywhere, while “Real Time” brings the band close to their last release with the same bluesy step-ups that they used to employ to great effect.
“It’s got a lot of those groovy rock ‘n’ roll drums and bass that everybody loves, and we love to write, and dialed-in guitar tones, and some cool ’80s synth on there,” says one half of Youngster, Blake Ratliffe. “And every now and then, we’ll depart into almost a Midwestern Americana sound with a couple songs.”
The band also leaves the U.S. border with “Gato,” a song that could have been directed by Sergio Leone. The Spanish Western-indebted track shows a drastically different side of Youngster based largely on the cinematic rhythm section.
“Where Your Woman Lies” relies on coy melodies, a slow build, and a nifty reference to American rock standard “Hey Joe” for a soft highlight in the middle of things.
“Joe, what happened to your girl,” the lyrics ask. “Is she off somewhere in Mexico/ Don’t tell me you don’t know/ Where your woman lies.”
“It’s got a pretty good range, yet still holds true to what we are. It’s kind of hard to explain in that way,” adds Ratliffe about the album. “I was honestly worried early on how everything was going to flow with the record, but by the end of it, everything has this really awesome flow to it, and still having that consistent vibe of this record.”
Coast Records mastermind Matt Zutell performed drums on almost every song on the album, in addition to producing it.
Zutell’s Human Resources footprint can be felt in some spots, specifically the dancing beats. “[We are] excited to work on our next one, probably with [Zutell], as well for LP number two,” says Ratliffe.
Rosa’s Cantina is dedicated to Ratliffe’s friend Brian Rosa, who recently passed away. “He was a good friend of mine and an amazing, amazing person,” says Ratliffe.
Fittingly, Argot will also release their latest EP Oh? at the same performance.
On the latest release, Argot make a noticeable leap forward, expanding their sound away from the blue and moody indie rock of 2018’s Murder Lounge. “We’ve really spent a lot of time on this EP and kind of honed our songwriting and our style a little bit more,” guitarist John Brooker explained. “This one’s a little bit slower. The last one was pretty quick and there was a lot going on. We liked that, but we were like, ‘We need to inject a little bit more space into this.'”
The songwriting is less streamlined and more flexible this time around. Tunes like “Lucky Son” have a bright mellow vibe that was largely absent from the cold feeling of Murder Lounge.
Opening track “Bar in the Sky” begins with a long-lost post-punk revival riff, before immediately morphing into a rolicking alt-country and quiet indie-rock mish-mash.
The genres listed are fitting comparisons, considering Brooker says the EP’s influences are somewhere between Car Seat Headrest and Wilco. He adds that the music is a little poppier and more accessible this time around.
“This is a little bit more centered on the vocals,” he states. “Everything can breathe a little bit more and it’s more about songwriting than about guitar.”
“Fuzzy Renditions” plays more to that style with bluesy musicianship that holds a groove but doesn’t cross into dance territory.
Thematically, Oh? is about the “general growing pains of getting older,” the guitarist says.
The lyrical content on the album flirts with the mid-20s milieu and a reevaluation of time already spent. “I need a little more/ I need a little more time/ To use these idle hands,” Brooker sings in the chorus for “Minutes.”
“Sometimes I wonder what you’re clutching to, can’t let it go/ No time for outside voices/ Hang with other devils/ Can’t wait to find your own way,” he says in the first verse for “Outside Voices.”
The band plays to the strengths of the lyrics with subtle, dynamic shifts and musicianship that focuses more on song over solo.
“There’s a certain theme I think that runs through some of the lyrics: wanting a little bit more time to live in, not adolescence, but the real world’s here for all of us, but we’re all kind of pushing back against all of that,” Brooker says.
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