Maxwell Young's Only Romantics is a Lesson on Vulnerability & Music
Evan Dale // May 15, 2019
In the confusing and indefinable world of what bedroom pop ever was and has become, New Zealand’s Maxwell Young has taken one of the more interesting roads and been one of the more unique artists to arise from it all. One of those all-in-one creatives where the word prolific doesn’t even begin to do him justice, dozens of tracks and a handful of projects define today what is in exceptionally nonlinear path to his current auditory aesthetic. There are certainly parallels to be drawn from his early work as an experimental electronic producer, but when listening to his new instrumentally-driven, vocally-powerful EP, Only Romantics, his journey seems to be every bit as personal as it has been creative.
For the past couple years, Maxwell Young has undergone an obvious shift towards becoming an acoustic, emotional bedroom pop star. Driven by the toll of his love life and a general sense of trying to find balance within his young self, his music is deeply personal in ways that few musical stylings outside of the experimental SoundCloud mellow pop lane offer the modern listener.
2018 saw the release of Daydreamer, a vibrant 9-track album – his first since 2016 – that delineated and solidified his new lane. But, with Maxwell Young, things are rarely ever as black and white as they appeared on Daydreamer’s album artwork. In its shadow, Young continued down a road of wild experimentation superseded only by wild emotion. Single after single saw new stylistic directions and bold risks taken, all driven by the underlying balance of his breaky, stirring delivery and unendingly relatable lyricism.
Even more vulnerable than the work that defined Daydreamer, the collection on its heels tells the story of an artist still trying to make sense of life through music – continuing down the road he has always embarked. And if there is any reason aside from obvious talent that he has so successfully won over such an expansive and ever-growing global audience, it’s for his relatability and knack for connecting personally one listener at a time. Maxwell Young’s music tells the story of someone just as lost, just as confused, and just as emotionally exhausted as the rest of us. He just happens to have the musical chops to speak about it beautifully.
Only Romantics is, in that sense, the most mature and refined of his work to date. It’s at times painfully youthful, cringeworthy in its essence as a mirror of our inner angst and broken heartedness (Forevermore). It’s at times uplifting and hopeful, tolling the bells of our desire for human connection and successful relationships (Sketches Of Dragonflies). It’s always bold in its ability to unearth the least surface level, and least explored of our emotional realms. And that’s what makes it so powerful.
In every other sense, it is marked by sensitivity and timidness. Maxwell Young’s vocal delivery is shaky and worn by design, making his music soft and introspectively palatable. The fusion of acoustic instrumentation – his guitar – and electronic nuances – the foundation of his modern artistic self – grant his sonic texture something unique and harmonizing with the thematic lanes of his lyricism. Through it all, Maxwell Young emerges eternally relatable in every sense except for being exceptionally talented.
Speaking on it himself, Young told us, that ‘’Only Romantics’ is less of a diary and more of a specific vignette inspired by the arch of a first relationship in terms of figuring out how to share all of yourself with someone, depression, the concept of muses, projecting feelings, monogamy etc. [He] find[s] it quite personal and poetic at risk of being obtuse and inaccessible.’ But that’s not quite how we received it.
The two leading singles that found their respective places on Only Romantics – Sketches Of Dragonflies & FFWD find even more strength in the project than they did as individual releases, helping to establish his obvious emotional breadth, and drive the musical nuances of the EP’s direction. But with the addition of four new tracks, a wider picture is painted of an artist who gives many glimpses of himself but rarely connects the dots. For fans of Maxwell Young, the connection of those dots, the poppy sensitivity felt in Pop Star’s Girlfriend & Kindred Spirits is wholesome and inviting without falling victim to any preconceived predictability and ambiguity that pop music usually carries with it.
And for that – mellow pop – at least Maxwell Young’s take on it – is really not so very pop after all. It’s hyper-specific, emotionally brutalizing, yet calm, collected, and new. It is, as defined by his SoundCloud page, now.
Be here now, now be here, and let you most vulnerable self fall victim to Only Romantics.