Yukon Blonde's 'Shuggie' Asks More of Life

BY Alisha MughalPublished Oct 10, 2023

What does it mean to write in the second person? In literature, it means a great many hefty things, mostly to do with ascription. But in poems, and pertinently in lyrics, the second person is often used in a colloquial way and therefore as an ask for collaboration: we use the form to build a connection or facilitate understanding between ourselves and our imagined interlocutor, our listener or reader — between me and you, you know? We talk in the second person about ourselves, but also perhaps about you; we talk in the second person to be confessional or to hint at our own culpability or to explain something that we perhaps don't have the tightest grasp on, but that we know is there — maybe you, if you recognize it, can help us find it. 

Whatever the intention, one thing is certain when it comes to the use of the second person in song — there is a distinct measure of self-awareness contained in the moments when an artist says "you." Yukon Blonde's Shuggie, the Vancouver-based indie pop outfit's sixth record, contains many such loaded pronouns, running the gamut from singular personification to self-acknowledgement, from confessions to rallying cries. 

Sonically, the LP skillfully refines and perfects the pop psychedelia the group leaned into for 2020's Vindicator, while chief songwriter Jeff Innes packs an existential punch through sparse quips that make poignant observations about the frustrating complexities (that are actually banalities) of modern life. 

Each track on Shuggie is bright and impossible not to feel in the body, which isn't surprising for the band; much of their work has been a masterclass in how to write an earworm. But there's something else going on on Shuggie — each humourous or irony-laden track points outward just as much as it does inward, and so simultaneously works to facilitate recognition of the self. The band walk us toward a collective admission of dissatisfaction with our current and inescapable way of life, a yearning for something more, for all those things that modern social technology elides, curbs, or straight-out denies. 

It might be most obvious halfway through the LP on "Txt Me Plz," but the yearning blooms from the album's very beginning. Opening track "Shuggie Come Back" dawns with a rainy hiss — the clarion sound of water through glossy leaves, of birds waking up. It's a groundedness that awakens as the band's synth rev up, and reappears throughout the album in subtle dispatches — maybe of dogs barking or howling, birds tittering, Innes's voice reversed, the jaw-droppingly beautiful trumpet solo in "So Original" — that ground you in your bodily senses. It's almost as though the album itself is sneakily facilitating that for which it obviously yearns through its direct words and indirect "yous": the unmediated present.  

"Every Single Time You Fall in Love" best exemplifies the self-referential, directly indirect "you." The track is sweet but also bitter, replete as it is with those tricksy "yous." Speaking to the other and to the self, Innes sings soberly and starkly of how foolish we become when we're in love. It's an honest account of what love in its early stages feels and looks like, a near anti love song, but dressed in the saccharine trappings of a bright, poppy love song. Without romanticizing, the lyrics speak of the chemical minefield our bodies become in love, running amok with poisons that are "camouflaged endorphins." "Every single time you fall in love / You feel not strong enough," Innes sings, as much about his lover as himself, as much about us as himself. "Can't help but make bad choices," he sings, after asking his lover for direct communication. "All those sacrifices / Just to be admired," he croons, going on to sing of something as innocent as making angels in the snow. "We probably won't make it one night," Innes smuggles in, right before the song ends in a glimmering twirl.

It's a deft observation (one that is more directly, soberly noted in the wilting flowers of the later "Don't Believe in Love"), about how foolhardy and self-destructive we become in something as beautiful as love. The track seems to recommend attending to the present moment's unfiltered reality, not embracing the romanticizing impulse every time. But it doesn't come as an accusation, nor does the recommendation sound like a punishment. Rather, it's a confession from the band that we co-sign because of that "you" — it pertains to them as much as to us.

On "Not Interested" Innes speaks to a lazy disposition, giddy in the face of Amazon and overnight shipping. The indirect "you" isn't so crucial here for we're all obviously trapped within much the same circumstances. Through an ironic sneer, Innes sings of how easy it is to buy something and receive it within hours, how easy it is for us to possess anything and everything. "Don't need love, I don't need choices," he sings, going on to express a disinterest in anything he, we, can't take home. The playfulness of the song, the first-person point of view, seems mocking of the self and also of us, amazed at how boring and proprietary-minded we've all become, how quick we are to bypass meaningful connection. Through the perspectival shift (using the first person so as to dull the barbed edges of the accusation), Innes fosters meaningful connection by prompting sympathy, a recognition of the self.   

"Txt Me Plz" follows "Not Interested" and abandons the latter's tongue-in-cheek irony to speak to a personified "you," directly asking for something more — the desire that "Not Interested" merely danced toward. On Shuggie, the use of the second person certainly facilitates connection and understanding. But more meaningfully, the perspectival play with that cunning second person works as enlightenment, reminding us of that which we often want to forget: reality, with all its badness and goodness. 

Shuggie is charged with a desire for something more from life, something more textured and nuanced, than what the world is currently designed to give us. And with that second person perspective, perhaps it's a prescription desire, too. Because when we recognize the familiarity of Innes's sentiments in all the "yous,' we also admit to feeling the same way. Accordingly, we ought to want more — maybe it's time we go out and get it. 
(Dine Alone Records)

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