THEY ARE the Canadian band of great critical acclaim. The one formed by a husband-and-wife duo who sing each and every song with an impassioned urgency, a band who harnesses a seemingly endless level of fervid energy, and who, at times, you'd swear on all things holy are the most important rock and roll band on the planet. But before you reach for your dog-eared LP of Funeral, you should know that I'm referring to Young Galaxy, not Arcade Fire.
While these two fiercely independent acts run in similar circles and have even toured alongside each other, the comparisons stop there. Young Galaxy sounds nothing like Win Butler & Co. In fact, Young Galaxy's very existence orbits around the concept of never sounding like any one particular band. Not even themselves. Over the course of three stellar recordings, Stephen Ramsay and Catherine McCandless (plus longstanding bassist Stephen Kamp, and a rotating cast of musicians that come and go) have deconstructed and rebuilt themselves, drastically evolving for each and every album.
"There's nothing more depressing to me than the band that says, 'This is our experimental record!' and it just sounds like them with some keyboards on it. I'm not naming names—Coldplay, cough, Coldplay—but that's a depressing idea to us, because that's not experimental at all," says Ramsay, who shares the songwriting and vocal duties with his partner McCandless.
With all due respect to Chris Martin's experimental jaunt and fancy outfits with armbands, Young Galaxy scorched the earth following the release of their 2007 self-titled debut, resurfacing as a bombastic rock act with a flair for the dramatic on 2009's Invisible Republic. Its collection of compact rock songs with stadium-sized sound brought home a Polaris Music Prize nomination. You'd think the band was onto something here.
Yet when Shapeshifting appeared earlier this year, it surprised no one when the 11-song album was the polar opposite of its predecessor, a calculating and frigid set of shimmering electronic-influenced songs that easily lives up to its title and demonstrates the band's stubborn reluctance to record the same songs twice. Fear of repetition led Young Galaxy to go to heroic lengths on Shapeshifting, teaming with reclusive Swedish producer Dan Lissvik (best known for his work in Studio and remixes for Fever Ray), who segregated himself from the band and reworked the songs to his liking. To this day Young Galaxy and Lissvik have never actually met; the entire production process was done online with each party displaying a supreme level of trust in the other.
"He'd play us a 20-second clip on Skype and we'd say, 'That sounds amazing!' then two weeks later we might hear it again and it'd be totally different," explains Ramsay. "We had no control."
Despite all odds, the record fits together seamlessly. The unadorned title track and "Blown Minded" both offer different views of the ambitious recording endeavor, the former sounding deliberately stitched together, while the latter is pristine from start to finish. Lead single "We Have Everything" is as powerful a song as you're likely to hear this year, an up-tempo number awash in synths and the soft voice of McCandless, whose love-struck declaration ("I wept when we parted/And wept when we united/In poverty, my love, we have everything") lingers long after the song fades away into a sea of electronic chirps. It's the closest thing the band might ever have to a bona fide hit—its life-affirming and utterly charming animated video definitely helps this case—even if the song may never reach the ears of the masses. Which, in some ways, is sort of the point of Young Galaxy's constant evolution.
"The [music] industry tells people to find your formula. In other words, find a way to sell a lot of records. And that phrase doesn't even really play into our existence—we don't even think about selling records," says Ramsay. "We think only about ways of perpetuating the band and being the best we can be, maximizing our creative output, and finding ways to make a living."