Young Wonder in avant garde

By Colleen Taylor

A band name like Young Wonder seems like a smart way to begin a music career. Two years ago, that’s just what a duo from Cork did, and instinct has served them well so far. Rachel Koeman and Ian Ring—together, Young Wonder—released a debut album aptly named “Birth” last May, giving life to a sound electro pop fans are getting excited about. This month “Birth” was shortlisted for the Choice Music “Best Irish Album” award.

Sign up to The Irish Echo Newsletter

Sign up today to get daily, up-to-date news and views from Irish America.

As their nomenclature might suggest, Young Wonder exudes originality and modernity. Their genre—electro pop—is the one that's taking Ireland’s young community by storm. Ask anyone who’s been to an outdoor Irish music festival within the last year, and you’ll see what I mean. However, Young Wonder might be better labeled as a postmodern, as opposed to a modern, group. This pair does not shy away from going against the grain, from stirring the cultural pot, and from flirting with the ostentatious (perhaps even, the offensive). Singer Rachel, for instance, often wears a Native American headdress on stage, and sometimes a cape. Pair that with their spacey melodies, and you’ve got a weird conjuncture of history, time and culture happening onstage. But Young Wonder seems to embrace their one-of-a-kind, avant garde flair, and so far, it’s served them well, as their recent Best Album nomination evinces.

“Birth” won’t be everyone’s cup of tea. You have to suspend your comfort with reality to get into what Young Wonder accomplishes in this album. Imagine the soundtrack to a sci-fi film mixed with bag pipes and a lute and you’ll have a preview of what this record entails. I’m still acquiring a taste for it myself, but I really appreciate the inventiveness of Young Wonder. What’s more, they handle the globalization of music with open arms—almost like a more experimental Enya. We might even call Young Wonder the new age of new age music. One of the songs I like best on the album is “Salt of the Earth,” which manages to be a lullaby and an electro pop song at once. It is sweet and interesting to listen to, involving both acoustic lute-like sounds and electronic reverbs. “To You” is both their most popular and undoubtedly most successful song yet. Listening to it gives you the strange, yet pleasant sensation you’d get at a yoga class and a rock concert—but it delivers those two experiences simultaneously. It’s feel good music from another galaxy.

In musical terms, Ian Ring is the brains, and Rachel Koeman is the brawn, or more appropriately, Ring the computer and Koeman the voice. First, Ring composes the melody and the electro synchronization and then Koeman enhances and musicalizes his work with her vocals. Koeman’s musical training is classical, but there is nothing traditional or structural about Young Wonder’s sound. They embrace and loosen all kinds of musical forms and genres, all kinds of cultures. “Birth” features inflections from their native Irish musical tradition, African music, East Asian music, and many others. The band has said they find different cultures to be a main source of inspiration.

Young Wonder are regular performers at Cork’s main music hot spot, Cypress Avenue. Unsurprisingly, they were also headliners at Electric Picnic, Ireland’s biggest music fest, and Body and Soul, Ireland’s popular indie festival, this past summer.

Give Young Wonder a try. This really is a new sound.

Colleen Taylor writes the Music Notes column each week in the Irish Echo.