There is no other album like the debut "Youth" from Ohio pop-punk group Citizen. Led by main vocalist Mat Kerekes, followed by brothers Nick (lead guitar) and Eric (bass) Hamm, Ryland Oehlers (rhythm guitar), and then drummer Mike Armstrong, Citizen burst onto the scene and instantly released a cult classic in “Youth” which celebrated 10 years back in June 2023.
Like my previous album review of “Songs to Scream at the Sun” by Have Heart, “Youth” shares the same theme. Youth is defined as “the period between childhood and adult age”. The LP shares the turmoil and heartbreak of being within that odd phase, where you don’t know what to do, but know enough to understand what is going on.
Citizen can gift wrap the angry and awful sides of youth perfectly and deliver them in the form of a 30-minute LP with one of the best tracklists I’ve heard. I’m no musical professional, sure I've played an instrument for about half of my life, but when it comes to looking deeply at music, I either like it or I don’t.
For “Youth”, I enjoyed this album so much that I followed Citizen across two time zones on their anniversary tour this past summer.
I won’t highlight the entire album because it is another one of my favorites that I could wax poetic about all day long. However, I will look closely at a handful of standouts that I think define Citizen in their debut.
First, if you have never listened to Citizen before and you’re reading this review, stop, go on YouTube, Spotify, or anywhere you get music basically, and first look up “The Summer” by Citizen. That song unearthed some buried emotions about your first teenage heartbreak, right? Mat Kerekes does not mince words as he is speaking to the person this song is directed to.
“You said you’d stay, and you promised. I finally see you out. Why’d you wait for the summer to chew and spit me out?”
You can almost feel the venom coming through Kerekes’ voice as the song progresses. While Kerekes’ has a very nice soft voice in some songs (see Citizen’s later releases As You Please and Everybody is Going to Heaven, alongside his solo albums), he taps into his hardcore influences and uses the heavier side to contrast the vocals. Kerekes’ does an incredible job balancing the two without it being too much of an overkill.
The song keeps upbeat while relaying that theme of heartbreak in your youth, of blindly following someone because you love them and then slowly realizing they are a bad person and this isn’t a good situation for you to stay in.
I can’t do a “Youth” highlight without including “Sleep”, the fourth track on the album. Another song you will have to stop and listen to before reading about it. It became an instant classic amongst Citizen fans and a staple on their setlist every tour.
“Sleep” deals with the less talked about portion of growing up, which is emotional weariness and distance, not wanting to connect with others anymore, and overall feeling like a burden to everyone around you.
The first verse mentions the narrator (Kerekes in this case) reassuring the person he is with, assumingely a romantic partner, that their friends were right about him being distant and asking them “Do you sleep anymore?”. In the second verse, Kerekes is seemingly fed up with everything going on around him, “I’m getting sick and tired of the smile that I fake every day, now I would love to speak my mind, but I can’t think straight”. I think it perfectly captures that experience of wanting to be there for your friends/romantic partner/whoever really, and not being able to exert any more energy because you are just so emotionally drained. Finally, Kerekes realizes that maybe whoever he is with will be better off if he leaves, so he offers to move on. A crucial part of the youth experience is learning to distinguish when you are needed and when it might be easier to just pack it up.
Skipping over to the sixth track, “The Night I Drove Alone”, is Citizen’s most popular song. On Spotify, it has almost 25 million streams. If they aren’t known for the previous two songs, this is definitely one that a lot of people will know, with one of the most well-known sets of lyrics in the pop-punk scene coming from this.
“And I should’ve crashed the car, the night I drove alone,” is a lyric that the band, when they play it in every city, tries to gauge how sad the crowd is by how loud it is being screamed. I can’t lie in this review, so I will say that all three times I saw Citizen in June, I yelled very loudly for this line and had no voice when I flew back to New Jersey.
It is an incredibly simple song, another one full of realizations about a relationship that did not go the way Kerekes wanted it. The full band does not kick in until about 1:35 into the song, with a large majority of the track being just guitars and Kerekes’ voice. It works and it’s a nice break before they head into some of the (in my opinion) heavy hitters.
Immediately after “The Night I Drove Alone,” are two of my personal favorite tracks. First up is “Speaking with a Ghost,” which absolutely wrecks me every time I listen to it. It is one of those songs that doesn’t seem like you should scream in a car, but it is very cathartic once you realize it is possible. Where “Sleep” deals with yourself being emotionally distant, “Speaking with a Ghost,” highlights the opposite side of it, where someone you love is keeping themselves from you. The song repeats and it may seem boring, but I think that’s where a lot of the message is conveyed. If you are so caught up in trying to get back in touch with someone and you are increasingly worried about them, nothing will ever feel different until some form of communication is established. You are stuck in an endless cycle of sameness, basically like Groundhog Day.
Kerekes and the rest of the band just create such an incredible atmosphere that is consistent across the whole album and never wavers, which brings me to the last song I am going to point out from this list.
As soon as “Speaking with a Ghost” ends, “Your Head Got Misplaced” is the next song up to bat. It is catchy and unmatched, containing one of my favorite lyrics from the debut.
“You’ve got a place to hide, somewhere safe you found, so I locked you in and I burned it down. I’ve heard all about you, your plans, and how they fell through, your head got misplaced from everything that you do”.
This song deals with themes of betrayal, revenge, and control, all core elements of youth. It isn’t about being bitter towards the other person; it’s about seeing the karma they receive for doing you wrong and learning to be better than them in the future. Even if I didn’t get the lyrics to this song, I think it’s boppy, and screaming those aforementioned lyrics counts as therapy.
If this write-up didn’t convince you to listen to “Youth,” I seriously don’t know what will. I hope that whoever reads this is naturally curious and wants to discover some good, new (to them) music and give this band a shot. If this album isn’t your speed, Citizen does have four other LPs in their discography that do span across all genres.