Earlier this year Mattson released his latest LP, Youth., a coming-of-age record about innocence lost, promises denied, and the purgatory of one’s mid-20s. While he may have written all the songs on acoustic guitar in his bedroom, the electronics draped all over every song make it far from what most people would consider a folk record. “If someone puts me into a genre, it’s always folk music,” says the singer-songwriter, who cites Kanye West as a production influence on Youth.. “There are elements of folk music, sure, but I don’t think that’s who I am. My motto going into this record was: ‘Folk is dead.’ ”
Folk music is about storytelling, which is something Mattson knows well enough. “People latched on to my last album because there was a story,” he says. “Writing in a box was exciting and interesting to me: here’s a theme, so how far can you go with it, and how can you make it seem like a cohesive piece?” For his latest LP Youth., he set out to write about his time growing up in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, a small border town between Great Lakes Superior and Huron. He credits “the Soo” with giving him ambition—to get the heck out of there.
He wanted to write about his friends who are still there, and about his generation who are now between adolescence and adulthood — the latter being a delayed concept in the modern world, when few people yet feel confident on their life path by age 25. “It’s about when dreams become regrets, all your friends become strangers when you don’t have something binding everyone together, like school,” he says. “I thought about coming-of-age movies and novels, and couldn’t think of many coming-of-age albums.” That is, except for two of his all-time favourites: Bruce Springsteen’s Born to Run and Darkness On The Edge Of Town.
Sonically, however, Youth. owes more to Springsteen’s Tunnel of Love, with a lonely, ghostly timbre to the synths employed by Colin Munroe (Drake, Sky Ferreira) — who also worked on Mattson’s 2015 EP Avalanche, nominated for a JUNO Award. Munroe dressed up Mattson’s acoustic demos and shared songwriting credit on tracks that are too catchy to be anything but pure pop music. Mixed by Noah Georgeson (Devendra Banhart, Joanna Newsom, Andy Shauf), Youth. is a studio record,” says Mattson. “I wanted to give it a specific feeling and vibe, to create its own sonic world.” Those early demos will be released as bonus material, as well as remixes of some tracks; there is also an entire version of Youth. made entirely with synths and drum machines, which was shelved. The proper album is a marriage of the songs’ stark origins and Munroe’s machinations.
There are ghosts in those machines: ghosts of Mattson’s adolescence in Sault Ste. Marie, just as the Polaris Music Prize nominated Someday The Moon Will Be Gold dealt with the ghost of his mother, and Avalanche dealt with the ghosts of his musical forebears—the video for that EP’s title track, which won the 2016 Prism Prize, features Mattson inserting himself into 35 of his favourite album covers, from Tom Petty and Paul Simon to The Smiths and Jay-Z. On Youth., there’s no trace of a retro vibe: it’s full of Swedish-style pop songs like “Kids on the Run” (“My attempt at writing a millennial anthem,” says Mattson) and 808-and-Heartbreak-ish ballads like “Broken in Two” — but also, yes, a couple of folk songs that bookend Youth., the introductory “Once”, and the sparse, banjo-driven conclusion, “Astronaut.” Folk is dead; long live the folk artist.
PRAISE FOR YOUTH.
“While boldly declaring “Folk is dead,” Mattson has made an intimate, whisper of a record...Through Mattson and Munroe’s machinations, folk is not dead, but reborn... Put it in the box with other albums that defy description and transcend genres; file it under instant classic and effortless listening.” - Dominionated
“Youth. is a coming-of-age record that seeks to remind us of the dreams we used to have; the people with whom we've lost touch, or who we've lost altogether; and all the other changes that flashed before our eyes. It's designed to reflect the wistful, nostalgic and possibly lost millennial, and its intergenerational sound achieves that and much more.” - Exclaim!
Dec 27 - Sault Ste. Marie, ON - Loplops
Feb 9 - Toronto, ON - Drake Hotel
KALLE MATTSON ONLINE