It’s been five years since we’ve heard from new music from Youth Code—besides a great loose single and perhaps even better collaboration with HEALTH—but the industrial synth-punk duo’s new project is both an expected return to form for the group and an album-length collaboration with the like-minded electro-industrialist producer King Yosef. A Skeleton Key in the Doors of Depression’s eight tracks are an unrelenting fusion of both artists’ unique sounds, warping various disparate heavy genres related to metal, hardcore, trap, and EDM into something wholly new.
Both parties feel equally represented here, even if it’s rarely easy to pull them apart—Yosef and YC’s Sara Taylor trade hoarse verses, while the amped-up, club-ready electroclash production from Yosef is hard to peel away from Ryan George’s synth contributions. Spinning anxious tales concerning their usual subjects of mortality and mental health, the record closes with a jarringly sentimental—while uniformly brutal—finale detailed in the trio’s track-by-track writeup below. Hear the album in full, and read on for the group’s commentary.
King Yosef: I think this was the second instrumental I had worked on in the batch of things that Ryan had sent over, but after the first draft I knew it was the opener to the album. This is the first song on the album I was starting the lyrics to bring to Sara, and now on the other side of everything it is one of my favorite songs off the whole record. Sara’s verse on this song comes in absolutely perfectly, and Ryan’s chorus synth could not be better executed and placed.
Ryan George: This song was part of a handful of demos YC had sitting around from what I think of as an awkward phase after Commitment to Complications. Sara and I were trying out new things at our home studio and it just sorta sat around on a hard drive because we were touring so much. I’m really happy that Yosef could pull it out of the muck. When Sara went up to Portland to track the vocals, I pissed both of them off by calling the vocals “aloof.” I think I just hated that I could never get the track the way I thought it could’ve gone. I absolutely love the song and vocals now, I just needed to separate it from mind filing it into the unfinished section. The heavy breakdown at the end is another example of why I think Yosef is one of the most exciting producers out there.
Sara Taylor: I remember this song specifically being the most collaborative in my mind between Yosef and I as far as vocal takes go. I wanted to really lock in the connection by creating a back-and-forth with us in a call and response manner that cemented the union on the record. I also know I wanted to stand out from a usual delivery. I normally write in rhymes, but wanted to take a chance to sorta harken the discordant poetry of other vocalists I admired. The bridge of this song is a complete nod to my take on a presentation of emotional delivery without having to wrap a neat little bow around the end of each stanza.
KY: This was one of the drafts that I sent. The initial idea was just to write something that felt the way that opening groove did and it ended up working out. Ryan’s additions to this are what made this song come to life in the demo process, as I had no idea where it could be taken. Love the guitars on this song, and the off-time drums that are barely noticeable but add so much. Also, Sara’s chorus is killer.
RG: Sara had been toying with singing for a while on a bunch of demos we had, but we never got a chance to really nail it. Our home studio is just impossible to track any vocals, especially with the ferocity that she delivers. When they sent me the rough cuts from Portland I put on my headphones and seriously screamed because I finally heard her singing voice in the chorus. I knew it would sound good, but I was floored by the emotional depth of it. I knew the track was going to rule because the skeleton Yosef had sent initially was so hard. The bridge he does seriously rips.
ST: I can’t remember correctly, but I think this is one of the first songs I had experimented with my vocal delivery—not just on this record, but in general. I have never felt super confident with my ability to sing melodically, and I really wanted to bring something new to the table on this record. I sat with the melody for a while, but couldn’t practice it due to my surroundings. I couldn’t think of a better person to start exploring singing with than Yosef at the helm, because he helped guide me through it and also was super supportive despite my nervous energy of doing a new thing. Once I got the confidence from this track, I knew that I could explore a whole different format with this release.
3. “Looking Down”
KY: When I got done with my first revision of this song, I could hear its format pretty early on. This one started on Ryan and Sara’s end and by the time I sent it back, I could hear a single brewing. I love Sara’s singing on the album, but of the melodic choruses, this one is the best for me. The bones of this song are all Ryan, and I don’t think I could’ve done anything he did, which makes me love this song even more.
RG: This is another track that I absolutely hated from some old YC demos. I cannot believe that Sara and Yosef were able to turn it into one of my favorite tracks. It just goes to show how important it is to work with good people.
ST: When we first got together to consider vocal ideas for the songs and what order we should track them, this was in last place for us because the beat was something all three of us considered to be so soft and acceptable. Our projects are definitely known for harder-edged takes on electronic music, and I think all of us just thought this was a club song we could push until last. Yosef’s delivery with this one really sparkles for me personally because he has such conviction and tact in his parts, and it fit perfectly against the melody I had in my mind for the chorus.
4. “Head Underwater”
KY: This started with me sampling the psyop noises from the Waco documentary I had just watched at the time, and somehow transpired into one of the most horrifying songs of the whole album. Sara shines on this one. Tracking her vocals for this song was nothing but impressive. Ryan’s Foley he had done for a lot of this song made it extremely cinematic.
RG: This song is a fucking monster. When we finally get to play this live together I want to open and close with it.
ST: This is hands down my favorite track on the album. It was the last instrumental sent in by Yosef and the one I had the most fun with. I heard these echoes of Gotham throughout the chorus and wanted to make sure a haunting string section rounded out how direct and mechanical it was in delivery. I also knew once the instrumental was complete that we needed an insane guitar part on it, so I had to call one of the most insanely talented guitarists I knew to smash a solo on this: Matt Pike [of High on Fire]. Matt came over to Yosef’s studio with some fucking wild EarthQuaker Devices pedal, having only heard the song once and absolutely knocked it out of the park in one take. Vocally I felt very comfortable with this song, so I think it really exudes confidence with the delivery and I loved every part of making this song.
5. “The World Stage”
KY: This was a demo on my computer for possibly a year before this would become a song. I wrote this instrumental and always loved it, but could not see its progression and ended up just leaving it. When I sent it to Ryan and Sara the turnaround and additions made this song turn into what I had always heard it as in my head, but just couldn’t get there. Love the synth work on the chorus of this one, as well as the original guitar demos that are still subtly mixed into the chorus.
RG: When Yosef sent this I felt like it could’ve fit on a YC record. Sara actually did a lot of the synths on the chorus, which was awesome to watch. We thought it would be cool to add the piano break since one of the rules for our collaboration was to try and do things that we normally wouldn’t do. I think we came out better musicians because of it. All of us.
ST: Ryan really helped me to deliver idea after idea with this one, and it was such a fun experiment in us culling in different influences in order to craft parts before we got it back to Yosef. It felt almost like snapping pieces into a puzzle and having the satisfaction each time a patch of it connects to the main frame. I love a lot of the little ear candy type pieces he inserted throughout the song and the textures he brought to the original instrumental.
6. “A Mothers Love”
KY: Another thing I had originally sent over. The original was thirty seconds long and had been that way forever. When I got it back it finally sounded like an actual song. One of the harder-to-do songs vocally, but paid off. Sara’s hum-singing in the bridge/verse is the highlight of this for me. Was extremely fun to record and build this idea.
RG: I was really excited by the power of the small clip of audio Yosef sent us, even more so that I knew it was inspired by Justin Broadrick’s electronic music. The riff is so heavy. Sara and Yosef’s lyrics are really heavy on this song, and knowing what it’s about makes it that much more cathartic to me.
ST: I struggled so hard with this song—and “Deathsafe”—in delivery when I was going over the instrumental that I must’ve spent hour upon hour in the guest room at Yosef’s trying to push my cadence in a manner that I felt fit the framework. This is one of those songs where I kept writing and rewriting lyrics to make them work, but to no avail until it finally fell into my lap to go massive with the screams. This, I’m pretty sure, is the last song I tracked at Yosef’s until my voice blew out completely and I was unable to talk the next morning.
KY: This was the first instrumental that was sent over with stems for me to work on. It all connected, and I got something I was happy with pretty quickly and I was proud of. Tracking vocals to this song turned out to be the hardest part of this entire record for me. I’m not sure what time signature Ryan originally put this in, but Sara and I both ended up pushing ourselves when it came to fitting vocals in the pockets.
RG: This is my favorite song on the record. It reminds me of “Deathbed” by 108 even though it doesn’t sound like it. The sound design on Yosef’s end is untouchable, and the fake out with the hook/not hook ending is so baller. Hell yeah.
ST: The timing on this one had me all fucked up. I remember saying “Fuck this song” so loud because I kept fumbling on where the timing was, and I couldn’t assemble a structure. I loved how wild Ryan went with the timing, because it pushed us all the way out of our comfort zone during the recording process and made us reevaluate the structure over and over again. I also knew I had to step my game up on this one because Yosef had his parts mapped so well, and while I was rewriting I could just hear him in the other room crushing take after take. It was an absolute eye opener to see the way he dances with delivery on every song, but this one especially because of how incredibly difficult it was to fit our parts in it.
8. “Finally Docked”
KY: This starts as just some chords Ryan had sent and I started doing FX on. Eventually they just started sounding bigger and bigger until it was much more atmospheric and felt like a closer. This song was rough on vocals and mixing, but I am still happy with how it turned out. Love Ryan’s drums on this one, and Sara’s performance.
RG: Sara wrote this song for me and it makes my cry. I’m glad Yosef was able to pull it out of demo mode. Not sure if we could play this live due to it being so personal. But that’s OK because we’ll play “Head Underwater” twice.
ST: “Finally Docked” was the most difficult song for me on the whole record. Behind the scenes it was the last song to get done, and I had completely blown out my voice during my stay at Yosef’s studio from doing the rest of the tracks. We attempted a vocal pass the morning of my flight back to Los Angeles and it sounded like my vocal chords weren’t in my body. So I rested my voice and went to track my parts three days later with Doug McKean, and finally got the take I wanted and the catharsis that this record was—in all senses—finally docked. I don’t usually get into what I mean in my lyrics, but I was excited to share with Ryan that I had written him a love song, something I’ve never done in my life, and it was the perfect ending to this record that I am incredibly happy to have participated in.