Release Date: Oct 11, 2011
Record label: Barsuk
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Alternative Pop/Rock
Cymbals Eat Guitars have followed Why There Are Mountains, their self-released debut of 1990s indie rock alchemy, with a difficult and likely divisive sophomore LP. Which isn't all that surprising-- these things happen when the "next step" involves signing to a label, hiring a venerated producer (John Agnello, who also worked this year with alt-revivalists Male Bonding), turning over half of your personnel, and releasing an 8 1/2-minute song as the "first single. " Here's the thing: Lenses Alien doesn't really sound all that different from Why There Are Mountains, which is a tribute to how fully formed and musically tight CEG were right out of the gate.
As unimaginative as indie rock has become in this current decade, the same can be said about describing its mechanics with eloquence. But then again, does it really matter? In today’s mindset, its genealogy can only be traced from docile corporate rock to fairly distorted blues-rock. As if the popular consensus weren’t capable enough of thinking outside the box, the two social classes that birthed rock continue to protect its corners – those who are adulated for their trained musicianship and those who are contrived by a PR machine to serve the masses.
There’s not a whole lot about Cymbals Eat Guitars that makes sense. Take their name, for example: It’s clear within just a few moments of listening to the band’s music that they obviously favor putting stringed instruments front and center over percussion. Even more so than on their debut, Why There Are Mountains, the Lou Reed quote that the Staten Island indie rockers cropped and borrowed for their moniker seems more of an inside joke than anything else.
If Cymbals Eat Guitars took a physical journey across America on their debut album, 2009's Why There Are Mountains, their followup takes a leap into the metaphysical and otherworldly. When he's not contemplating the "unobservable scaffolding for planets and stars", frontman Joseph D'Agostino is preoccupied by "memory's strange abbreviation", haunting his characters with pictures and feelings they might rather forget. His prose is dense with imagery (some of it purple as an aubergine: "undulating mirror images of incandescent spires", indeed), and gets ambitiously complex music to match: surprises lie in the way a song will shift direction and dynamic, a melody will twist away from the vocal line, a guitar will apparently detune mid-note.
Cymbals Eat Guitars is a band unafraid of being long-winded from the get-go. “And the Hazy Sea” kicked off the debut LP, Why There Are Mountains, with an almost six-and-half-minute detonation of cymbals, guitars and cymbals eating guitars, and this follow-up, Lenses Alien, tops that with its opening track clocking in at 8:32. While these anthemic concoctions soar in their off-kilter, ready-to-blow construction, it’s the more succinct pieces, like “Keep Me Waiting” or the lo-fi “Wavelengths” that best demonstrate the band’s progression into more bridled territory.
Was anyone else surprised by Cymbals Eat Guitars when they covered Superchunk for the A.V. Club's Undercover series? Given all the '90s rock coversation that goes on around them, shouldn't have their take on "Detroit Has a Skyline" been too straightforward, too on the nose? Well, in a word, no. They changed Superchunk's tight hooks into something ragged and torn open, something utterly true to the original, yet off-kilter.
Looking back (and slightly forward), 2011 has been the year of sophomore triumphs. From the perfection and major ripening of Bon Iver and Fleet Foxes to the sweet eclecticism of Lykke Li, it’s been a hell of a year for acts faced with the dreaded sophomore slump. In a typical year, we’ll witness dozens of bands fall victim to the hurdle, but on the whole, bands poised to challenge their respective slumps this year have ended up knocking them out of the park.
With a crash and a bang, the boys are back The four members of Cymbals Eat Guitars hunkered down in the basement of bassist Matt Whipple’s New Jersey home to record Lenses Alien, the group’s latest effort. It seems fitting, then, that there’s a certain restlessness to many of the tracks, almost as if it’s a score to the life of young suburbanites growing impatient behind their picket fences. Conscious suburban unrest or not, one thing about Lenses Alien is for sure: a sophomore slump it isn’t.
Rather than playing it safe and simply re-creating their 2009 debut, Cymbals Eat Guitars decided to tweak their sound in a moodier direction on their sophomore album, Lenses Alien. Focusing on mining melody from discord, the band’s follow-up combines the jangly harmony of Archers of Loaf with the slick precision of the Dismemberment Plan, pinning listeners under a Wall of Sound in songs like “Rifle Eyesight (Proper Name)” before letting them explore the wide-open spaces of “The Current. ” Despite only taking a couple of years to put out a second album, Lenses Alien also feels like an altogether more grown-up record.
Head over to Cymbals Eat Guitars’ website and you’ll find the lyrics to every song on Lenses Alien run together into one, arbitrarily broken block of text. It’s a fitting presentation: the disjointed fragments of phrases and images all pushed together into a semblance of continuity until it’s impossible to draw any distinctions between the beginnings and endings of things. The opening track “Rifle Eyesight (Proper Name)” clocks in at eight and a half minutes, the longest single track the band has recorded to date (though not too far out of the range established by their 2009 debut, Why There Are Mountains).
At the risk of TMI, Cymbals Eat Guitars should hit my sweet spot. If every review of your debut album mentions late ‘90s-era Modest Mouse and Built to Spill as points of reference, I’m going to want to take you out to dinner. And Cymbals Eat Guitars, another band full of dudes from New York and New Jersey, would have quite an appetite. That debut record, Why There Are Mountains (2009), sounded positively ravenous, each king-sized track lining up a buffet of ideas for your digestion.
While there’s a mass of slacker bands into ’90s alt-rock today, few venture beyond the usual influences. Luckily, [a]Cymbals Eat Guitars[/a] are here to harness progressive specimens from epic guitar heroes [b]Built To Spill[/b] to chameleons Lilys. The New York quartet mix these touchstones with post-hardcore power on their second album, pushing further into noise-rock on nine-minute opener ‘[b]Rifle Eyesight (Proper Name)[/b]’.While they mainly hit a balance between shifting symphonics, subtle keys and pyroclastic guitar, sometimes – such as on ‘[b]Plainclothes[/b]’, a ballad/disco/punk-funk/noise jigsaw – there’s just too much going on.
TERIUS NASH “1977”. (radiokillarecords.com).