Michael Knight – Youth Is Wasted On The Young (2005)

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Dublin collective Michael Knight released their debut with a minimum of fanfare. They also appeared out of the blue from a country that is adept at uncovering troubadours yet has a slightly anaemic record in producing exciting new bands. That may be about to change, however, if Michael Knight achieve what their music ultimately deserves. With a Clap Your Hands Say Yeah net savvy they could soon be the sensations of the underground because hidden inside their shiny armoury are bundles of sonic joy. There are justifiable Belle & Sebastian comparisons but their influences also span the several degrees of separation between the Beach Boys and Burt Bacharach. With such a varied game plan it seems entirely appropriate that they decided to call themselves after a 1980’s TV character. What the bright red shorts wearing, million record selling crooner thinks of it all is another matter altogether.

It’s that early Belle & Sebastian energetic quirkiness that hits you first. ‘Waves To The Shore’ is a superb piece of affecting kitsch with attendant vintage keyboards, Richard Murphy’s warm vocals and glorious background harmonies from Edel Coffey and Lynn Millar. The piece is perfectly off-kilter yet exuberantly innocent. The bands most successful efforts are based around a lavish chorus where the boy/girl interplay is perfectly executed. ‘Leaving Town’ is a ravishing example; the piano interlude at the beginning barely reveals the sweetness about to be unveiled. There is a children’s daytime programme feel about the way Murphy delivers his lines, one half jolly the other fabulously silly. That’s not to detract from the joy of it but it’s only when the trio combine to furnish a multi-layered chorus that the magic occurs. The result is otherworldly, completely timeless, effortlessly dispatched yet utterly compelling. This is a certifiable modern day classic. The title track is almost as good, for once Patrick Freyne takes over the lead and his near santa like voice provides the perfectly foil to the gentle ahh’s of Richard and the girls. The music that sits in the foreground is playful, understated and the tinkling piano is the only thing that steals the limelight from the singers.

The quality is evenly spread throughout the album but some tracks take a bit more time to reveal themselves. ‘Bright Eye’ showboats quirky structures and unveils offbeat melody at every turn so it’s easy to overlook it initially. By letting it mature slowly, however, it grows into a multi-faceted pop entity. ‘The Lights Go On And Off’ is frenetic and as dispassionate as the record gets. Murphy pulls a note perfect Stuart Murdoch impression while the guitars sound like they have just returned from an enjoyable eastern escapade. ‘Lead Me Down’ is a lot gentler, the piano sounds comfortably familiar, the strumming is campfire friendly and the tiered vocals gel so seamlessly together you may find yourself singing along in an unrehearsed shower moment. ‘Crown Of Thorns’ has a Wilsonesque feel to it and even finds time to include a whistling solo into proceedings. What takes this fine debut out of the classic category is the presence of a couple of disappointing numbers. If they had been culled then we’d be looking at one of the most flawless introductions since Tigermilk. ‘Success!’ is inexplicably dour and out of sync with the rest of the happy go lucky fare. The vocals are tired, off key and the instrumentation would suit the moment the funeral cortege enters the graveyard. ‘No Second Best’ is slightly better yet slight nonetheless. Perhaps it could work ok as a b-side but it struggles to find any meaning throughout its stunted life. But, disappointments are certainly in the minority and a couple of seconds in the company of tracks like ‘Seasons’ draws a colourful crayon smile in your psyche. ‘Foals’ was the albums first single and is perfectly pitched indie folk that you can dance to. If Arthur Lee had had Richard Murphy’s voice this perfect ditty would have made it onto the ‘Forever Changes’ masterpiece without much ado. The guitars even have a country twang that is semi Morricone in nature.

In some ways ‘I Did It Biff’s Way’ is an altogether separate direction for the band but as a closing track there’s no denying its genius in capping a marvellous record. It reminds most of something that the underrated Swedish band South Ambulance can conjure. Right from the off the pulsating riffs set the momentum with Murphy’s vocal riding the entourage with graceful dexterity. You can picture the end of gig antics as the band decide its time to ditch the balanced harmonies in favour of a sublime feast of chugging noise. This is indie rock at its most ebullient and its greatest achievement is the way it reveals hidden nuances with repeated listens. The circular disposition is shattered toward the end when the roof blows to reveal the sun, moon and the stars. Michael Knight are quite likely the most essential thing to come out of Ireland since Damien Rice decided America was for him. Up to now their sales likely only run into the thousands but if there is justice Murphy et al will need to look for extra wall space to accommodate lots of round platinum things. ‘Youth Is Wasted On The Young’ is the only musical kitt you’ll need for your home, portable or, of course, your car stereo.

Rating: 8/10

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