Cymbals Eat Guitars - Lenses Alien
Record Label: Barsuk
Release Date: August 30, 2011 (digital); October 4, 2011 (physical)
The name that was on the tip of everyone's tongue when describing Cymbals Eat Guitars' 2009 debut Why There Are Mountains was Modest Mouse (and to a degree, Pavement), comparisons that weren't at all inaccurate. Listening to the quirky bent notes that open "Rifle Eyesight (Proper Name)", the leadoff track of the band's follow-up release Lenses Alien, you might be tempted to think that more of the same lies in store, but you'd be misled. The new album is still indebted to obvious influences, but the list is longer this time out, and it's filled with luminaries. Its success is not in breaking new ground but in taking cues from some of indie-rock's greatest guitar bands and piecing them together in a way that still sounds fresh.
Vocalist-guitarist Joseph D'Agostino has clearly spent some time studying at Thurston Moore's school of creating distorted riffs that are both driving and hypnotic, as evidenced by "Keep Me Waiting". The more organic but complex textures of "Definite Darkness" are borderline jammy and recall the work of Doug Martsch. There's a fair amount of angularity and agression sprinkled throughout the record, and on "Secret Family", the band venture headlong into post-hardcore territory with intricate dynamics that are reminiscent of acts like Slint and Unwound.
Given the disparate array of artists whose work is referenced here, what's most remarkable about Lenses Alien is perhaps how (hehe) focused it is. Unlike the often scattershot (but still excellent) Mountains, Alien is pervaded by an almost uniformly dark mood-- not completely desolate, but definitely unsettling. D'Agostino's lyrics are sometimes inscrutable, but almost as much fun to read as they are to listen to ("Tonight where the boats go cutting through undulating mirror images of incandescent spires, the roads there are parabolas with nameless water towers near the exits. You could turn it all on end, and it still wouldn't be taller than the biotic arch at the crown of creation"-- from "Definite Darkness"). One theme that does seem to resurface is the difficulty, or perhaps impossibility, of leaving an unsavory past behind-- "what hangs over big empty country, reborn in negatives of photos of dusk, regret so huge it's on a phantom axis," he sings on "Wavelengths"-- and on "Secret Family", he suggests it's perhaps foolish to even try ("still, it's a fatuous wish to be blank and brand new"). And of course, given that D'Agostino's obvious heroes have soundtracked many an indie kid's stoned stupor, it's no surprise we have songs like "Plainclothes", which besides sounding a little like Brand New, is as lyrically elegant a song you'll find about tripping balls, and "Another Tunguska", on which he sings, "remember when you and I would get so high, we'd pass out with our shoes on?"
What's also remarkable about Lenses Alien is simply how memorable just about every second of it is, despite the fact that any semblance of verse-chorus-verse song structure has been tossed out the window. Working without that crutch, Cymbals Eat Guitars still have no trouble crafting razor-sharp guitar licks and vocal hooks that stick with you long after the album runs its course. And perhaps the best thing about Lenses Alien: its incessant begging for you to spin it again.
"What's also remarkable about Lenses Alien is simply how memorable just about every second of it is, despite the fact that any semblance of verse-chorus-verse song structure has been tossed out the window. Working without that crutch, Cymbals Eat Guitars still have no trouble crafting razor-sharp guitar licks and vocal hooks that stick with you long after the album runs its course. And perhaps the best thing about Lenses Alien: its incessant begging for you to spin it again."
Very well put. At first I was somewhat underwhelmed by it for this exact reason. This album has grown on me a ton though, I'd put it close to the top of my favorite albums of the year.