Inventive, hyper-electric guitar, intensely poetic lyrics, complex, original rhythms, Dyllan Young's Music for Driving is a remarkably assured debut. Its title isn't only a fond salute to Brian Eno's Music for Airports, one of Young's favorite albums, it's also a metaphor, a "symbol of independence," the Atlanta-based singer/songwriter/guitarist says: "Plus, I've always loved to drive."
Raised in Nassau in upstate New York, Dyllan grew up working class: "Growing up poor, and having always worked, I understand the drive to get ahead, to get out." His mother, whose fondest wish was that Dyllan become a writer, played a little guitar; his early listening varied from AC/DC's Hell's Bells to Kiss Alive! to John Denver's Rocky Mountain High, and Dyllan himself first toyed with guitar at around age 7. His first band played Zep/Sabbath-styled heavy rock, although warring musical directions and contending egos would eventually splinter the ensemble of childhood friends.
Uncertain of his musical future, Dyllan planned to study Economics at the University of Chicago. "I'd worked since I was 8 years old, and I was really impressed with people like Ivan Boesky and Michael Milken" he says. "They'd gone from nothing to being on top of the world, and I was impressed how easily they had manipulated the system to their own ends." But fate would intervene - Dyllan found himself in a hospital at 3 a.m., having undergone a near-death experience. "It made me wonder: 'What am I here for?' And I realized that the people who were most passionate about what they were doing were the musicians I knew. I knew then: That's what I'm here to do."
Plunging then into songwriting, moving from, he says "just cool riffs to fully integrated songs," Dyllan ultimately relocated to Atlanta. There, at bars and coffee houses like The Red Light Café, he hit the stage solo. He also began singing, discovering almost by accident that he had a four-octave range. "It was a revelation, when I started singing," he says. "I had always been the writer, not the singer, and here I was, singing my brains out!"
Next up? Recording. Flipping through the Yellow Pages, he hit upon a local studio, and set about committing the songs that would become Music for Driving to tape. "We got together about an hour before recording," Dyllan remembers. "I just played an unplugged guitar, and it all just came together."
Where the album's 10 songs go is into musical territory varied and rich, and lyrics that both evoke, Young says, "a struggle for connection" and serve as a kind of aural autobiography of the artist. "Every song is based on some person I know or some experience I've had," Dyllan explains, "but hopefully these songs can have a life of their own, one that everyone can relate to personally." From "Mark Twain" and its keen critique of pretense and artificiality to "Tumbleweed" and its ambivalent celebration of rootlessness and freedom ("It's about being on the run, about the euphoria of not knowing exactly where you're going"), Music for Driving captures life in our time in indelible melodies and words that matter.
Co-produced by Young himself, Music for Driving highlights Dyllan's original love, guitar work that soars from near-distortion to lyrical beauty. "I was a guitar player first," he says, "and still, whenever I write, it's with guitar in hand." The album's sound, lean and immediate, puts the emphasis squarely on the songs themselves. Check the wordplay of "Head in the Sand" ("Airraid/Skydive/Freefall/Jackknife") or the narrative power of a story-song like "Wild West," the hard-eyed truth-telling of "The Morning Song" or "Three" and its recounting of romantic entanglement, and you'll realize that Dyllan Young is equally adept at language as he is with six-string. These are songs that hook you instantly, and yet linger. They resonate.
The felicitous result is Music For Driving. The surging "Come Outside," with its gorgeous harmony vocals. The propulsiveness of "SlapHappy" ("I know it's time to get in the car and drive.") The sheer beauty and soulful testifying of "Blue Sky" ("Silent prayers don't resonate/You've got to speak the faith"). The benediction of "Trance" ("May the morning shake you and your sky wide").
It's also the beginning of a sound that will blossom, and original voice that will continue to echo. With Music for Driving, Dyllan Young serves notice of his arrival.