I spoke to Colin Caulfield as an even younger man, back in 2010 right before his CMJ performances, when he was just 21. I could hear church bells ringing on his Catholic college campus during our phone interview. It was very romantic, accompanying the earnest, hopeful air of our conversation. He told me that his Young Man project had a semi-immediate end in sight, pending the release of three albums following the EP Boy.
Boy focused on very young, er, boys. The first full-length, Ideas of Distance, ruminates on the simultaneous victory and tragedy of teenagedom. But then the latest, Vol. 1, leaps ahead to the wicked uncertainty typically descending post-grad. Even during our talk nearly two years ago, his old soul was evident. The new album trods on the mine-laden emotional desert of one’s mid- to late-20s—a terrifying terrain he has yet to officially enter himself. However, judging by the content explored in Vol. 1’s lyricism, he will be well-prepared when he reaches such an age.
This album marks Caulfield’s first with a fully fleshed-out band; now his previously solo bedroom project is a whopping quintet. The instrumentals definitely sound more lush and even foray into moments of electronic exploration, but the lyrics most impressed me on this release. Caulfield repeats a lot of plain language at a leisurely cadence to embody a specific era. There’s fear of overanalyzation, fear of failure, fear of aging, fear of the unknown. A lot of fear, but also a lot of eerie calm bordering on optimism. It’s the death of all-knowing teenage mindset and birth of the “adult,” sometimes overwhelming neuroticism.
“Heading” makes you wait for the album to even start. No one’s in a rush here, folks. Nearly 30 seconds pass before much music happens, but when it does, it’s evident that the sluggish pacing is because of immense patience, not apathy. This remains the same throughout Vol. 1, as does the mirroring mantra.
The songwriting in “Thoughts” emphasizes change on the horizon, the importance of reflection (“Sometimes I wonder why I’m feeling kind of down”)—recognizing when that goes overboard (“I’ve been thinking [x one million] / Too much / Too much / Lately”) and succumbing to the flow (“It’s too hard / Lately”).
In the slow dream jam, “By and By,” Caulfield acknowledges, “There are things I know and things I am going to know.” Later on in “Wasted,” he theorizes, “What can I do? / Other than feeling, feeling, feeling / I’m ready to go.” There’s that eerie calm again. How is this kid not secretly 50 years old? And without a sagacious beard? I need to know these things. I hope Vol. 2 reveals more of his thoughtful life mottos of which we can all adapt and use to stay a little bit sane.
Did I mention that each track seamlessly flows into the next, making the album kind of just one long song about transitive early age? Because it does, and it’s beautiful.
“Do” stands out as a particularly poignant track. Caulfield point-blank blurts out what we all want to, “I just don’t know what life is / I just don’t know what to do,” and, “I want to know what life is.” Yes! Now why can’t we all get to work on a reliable crystal ball for clarification? Although it’s a tired mantra, the cut deserves kudos for its brazen, shimmery delivery.
Vol. 1’s single, “Fate,” riles up with a starry-eyed start, paired with pretty guitar. Here, Caulfield asks, well, what if fate is a bunch of baloney? “Fate is not something new / Often times it’s not what you do / It’s no surprise.” Whoa. “Fate is not what you choose,” he continues.
The nine-track album slows to a halt with “Directions,” sprinkled in light synth. “Born in a landslide / Born to never, never to wonder what it would be like to be / Born in a good time, able to live my life… / But is it so much to have a life? / No, I don’t know where I’m going.” He has no idea. I have no idea. None of us have any idea, right, my fellow Generation Yers? Get behind me. But also, let’s get behind this peace Caulfield appears to be at with all of this.
He seems to embrace a philosophy which I tend to often preach to friends (and myself in the mirror). Life at this age and this time is trademarked by uncertainty and impermanence. It’s an ebb and flow with zero pattern. And that can be scary because it’s impossible to plan around something as screwball as that. But it’s also exciting because you have no idea what thrilling curveball life might pitch next. And since you have to go through the heinous storm of BS anyway, why not just be stoked about adventures yet to come? Caulfield is.
Boy took it from the top, treading through the male equivalent of “I’m Not A Girl, Not Yet A Woman” territory—however, with much more acoustic jangle. Vol. 1 pushes the project along, toying at removing its training wheels. Should we look to Vol. 2 for taking the two wheels all the way down the steep hill Caulfield stacked for himself? I certainly hope so.