Alt-rockers Young the Giant are back. And they’re back with their energized yet sheltered follow-up to their inaugural album.

In 2010, a group of young guys from Irvine, Calif. exploded onto the indie music scene with their self-titled debut album. The band was all the buzz for months after its release but received some harsh criticism from respected music blogs for being “too safe.” But Young the Giant’s live shows at festivals and tours, with acts like Minus the Bear and Steel Train, made up for such ridicule and added to the hype. Their raw energy and passion came through on stage and translated to crowd-pleasing performances across the country. The group’s first single “My Body” reached the No. 5 spot on the Billboard Alternative Songs chart and soon found airplay on college, alternative and Top 40 radio stations.

Attaining great success early on in a career is both a gift and a curse, as it’s often extremely difficult for bands to match what they have already achieved. With Young the Giant’s sophomore effort Mind Over Matter, the band continues to capture the essence of sugary pop-rock with catchy power choruses and contagious guitar riffs. As compared to their debut, the follow-up feels bigger and ready for the larger theaters and arenas that Young the Giant will inevitably be playing in years to come. The band is certainly evolving, although the tracks are not all golden, and as a whole, the album leaves me wanting something more inventive.

In order to break through in the unbelievably competitive world of music, artists need to differentiate themselves. Young the Giant’s biggest asset is its lead vocalist Sameer Gadhia. His large range and commanding vocal tone cut through the fabric of harmonic guitar riffs and percussive synths on tracks like “Crystallized” and “It’s About Time.” Both tracks will likely be favorites of casual listeners because of their accessibility and pop appeal. However, Mind Over Matter offers more than simple, predictable pop. The tracks on this album have interesting song structures and an introspective tone that was absent on Young the Giant’s first record.

Sometimes, less is more. This is definitely the case for my favorite track on the album, the elusive ballad “Firelight.” A simple chord structure, some lingering synths and modest vocal harmonies come together to form a truly beautiful song that will somehow urge you to relax and contemplate life. On the other end of the spectrum, the soaring vocals and explosive impression of “Anagram” are exhilarating and provide for the perfect soundtrack for a summer road trip … or maybe just for jamming out in the shower.

Still, there are a few tracks on the album that simply miss the mark. “Daydreamer,” an upbeat, drum-heavy rock anthem, seems forced and lacks authenticity. Sometimes, artists are urged by producers and other professionals to include certain combinations of tracks on an album. It seems plausible that in this case, Young was pressured to include songs like “Daydreamer” that they may not have chosen to involve if money was not a concern. It has that feel due to a repetitive melody and the lyrics that are simply too simple to carry the song.

“In My Home” also seems like a filler track with little that’s unique or interesting about it. A few misfires are almost expected on albums these days, but I was expecting more from Young the Giant, whose first record featured tracks that felt well polished and individually respectable, such as “Cough Syrup” and “Apartment.”

Mind Over Matter will certainly not set the world on fire, but this breezy pop-rock album with an inherent indie feel is worth listening to. There is no doubt in my mind that most fans will be pleased with this effort. However, I will warn that upon multiple listens, it is evident that the Californian quintet played it safe, sticking to what they do best. The growth is there, but perhaps taking greater risk would have garnered greater reward.

– By Jason Charles