Album Review: Young Guns – Ones and Zeroes

The alt-rockers’ third album is far greater than the sum of its parts, writes

Young Guns2 Rating: ★★★★★

The British rock scene seems perpetually in flux. For every time someone posts an article claiming it’s the best it’s ever been, someone else is convinced it’s about to collapse. Luckily Young Guns are here to swoop in with their third studio album, Ones and Zeroes, and save the day once again. It’s streaming on their official website and iTunes, and releases officially on June 8. The album alternates bands of energetic, classic rock fair with slower tracks that creates a more prog-influenced, bittersweet listening experience that keeps rewarding the more you repeat it.

It’s been three and a half years since the band released their last album, Bones, and much of that time has been spent on tour in the USA promoting their brand of enthusiastic Brit-rock overseas. The opening one-two of ‘Rising Up’ and ‘I Want Out’ have both been released as singles and featured as part of the band’s live set since September, and their effervescent energy carries over well onto recording.

The third track is where Ones and Zeroes slows down a little to give listeners some breathing room after a punchy opening. ‘Infinity’ is slower and soars, while ‘Memento Mori’ has noticeably higher production values and sounds more mature, as well as showcasing singer Gustav Wood’s impressive vocal range. ‘Lullaby’ completes the slower trio, culminating in a rousing swell that seems like anything but a lullaby.

‘Daylight’ is anthemic with a chorus that will embed itself in your brain, but single ‘Speaking In Tongues’ shines as the album’s standout track. It showcases a more danceable sound, with a strong beat and soaring chorus. It’s also the most American-sounding track, perhaps a sign that the band’s time in America has led to them being concerned with bigger sounds and better production.

The last third of the album is where Ones and Zeroes really spreads its wings to shine. ‘Colour Blind’ starts slow before exploding, while ‘Gravity’ is more melancholy and soft, showing off their emotional chops. ‘Die on Time’ continues the more reflective mood, and provides the perfect lead-in for closing track, the eponymous ‘Ones and Zeroes’ which sounds like it would be right at home on Radio 1 and closes the 44-minute run time with an impossibly catchy refrain.

Young Guns are not a particularly pioneering band. The guitars are heavy, the synths are cheerful, the hooks are big and Wood’s voice is wonderfully clear and emotive. Ones and Zeroes marks more chances taken than on any of their previous albums, and the result is sophisticated alt-rock whose only flaw is a reliance on the emotional impact of juxtaposing slow openings and raucous choruses.

This album shines because as a collection of songs it is good, but taken as a whole it is great: they flow cohesively, and take you on a strong emotional journey with waves of fist-pumping joy and slow eddies of restrained emotion, showing a marked departure from their previous offerings in favour of being more adventurous. Sure, you can call Young Guns generic, but they are the epitome of this genre, the type of band everyone else wants to be.