The Young Novelists' sophomore effort, Made Us Strangers, is an exciting set that eschews the glitz and glamour of contemporary country rock'n'roll for a sound that is far more raw and organic. Recording with Zeus' Carlin Nicholson, the Toronto-based group strove for a sound that was grittier and edgier than their previous effort by composing songs that are thick with electric guitars, rumbling drums and joyful honky-tonk piano. The album, which proudly boasts that it was recorded without pitch correction or click tracks, plays like a performance. It's Nicholson's bare bones approach to recording that truly communicates the Young Novelists' distinct brand of garage-tinged folk; this same approach nurtures the gentleness of the group's harmonies and Graydon James' sentimental writing on the album's softer fare.
Throughout the 12 tracks on Made Us Strangers, the group's vocal sharpness never wavers. Effortless harmonies and the occasional a cappella ending ("Brothers in the Garage") are peppered throughout, making for some of the most compelling moments here. "Always Make the Mistake" and "Couldn't Be Any Worse" — tender songs led by Laura Spink — begin with her distinct cadence and eventually build into powerful, almost spiritual collaborative efforts. Where group vocals add to the rootsy, mandolin-heavy sweetness of the Spink-led tracks, the same energy is what drives the choruses of other, more rocking offerings. "What Lies Ahead," a Deer Tick-esque punk-folk anthem with a heavy, pronounced chord progression, is balanced by the vocal pairing of James and Spink, while the big sweeping chorus of "For the Record" is characterized by the collective singing of "For the record, you're the last word / This old memory, you inside me."
The six-piece band, in addition to writing lush bluegrass ballads, can stomp and slide with the best of the country heavyweights. From John Law's large electric riffs on "Singer-Songwriter" and "Hear Your Voice" to soft, evolving acoustic-led tracks like "Palindrome," "When You Once Were Wild" and the maritime-y "Who Can Say," Made Us Strangers is a well-balanced album that showcases the Young Novelists' exceptional versatility and ability to conquer multiple roots genres with fresh sensibilities.