Review : Cymbals Eat Guitars - Lenses Alien
PitchforkCymbals 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. Perhaps the most challenging thing about Lenses Alien is how it makes what it sounds like fairly unimportant: Like last time, almost none of its sonic touchstones exist outside of the Clinton administration, but Joseph D'Agostino takes an enormous leap of faith by doubling down on his brick-thick verbiage during a lyrics-first record that puts more confidence in the listener's attention span than pretty much anything else I've heard this year.
It's become something of a cliché to praise an "album in the mp3 age," and while Lenses Alien certainly isn't intended to be strip-mined for singles, it's meant to be experienced on a remarkably micro level. It's actually more ambitious than the already grand Mountains, but it doesn't manifest in Byzantine song structure or far-flung sonic touches. While there's a peripheral shift from the more blue-collar, populist likes of Built to Spill, Modest Mouse, and the Wrens into the deconstructive and unfairly less celebrated Cap'n Jazz (when it's loud) and the Appleseed Cast (when it's quiet), the craft is evident in how every lyric and riff is exactingly honed to be of near equal importance.
The rest of Lenses Alien doesn't take after the sprawl of "Rifle Eyesight (Proper Name)"-- it's about twice as long as anything else-- but it lays out the record's rules of engagement. I've talked with others who consider its flow to be somewhat clunky, which is understandable considering what listeners typically expect from a song of that length, particularly an opener. There's not an epic build or a cataclysmic blowout: D'Agostino occupies the mind of an unstable, possibly predatory narrator, changing perspective and mood from verse to verse, the extended floods of physically punishing guitar feedback acting as outbursts of mental anguish linking unorthodox yet accessible and sprightly vocal lines. I'll call it anticlimactic as a compliment: Over an ugly, gnarled cluster of notes, D'Agostino, asks, "What former police sits at the bus stop offering rides?” and the song ends abruptly like a stunning reveal. After eight minutes of psychodrama played out in his head, the camera pans out for you to imagine the yellowed teeth or cold, vacant stare of its main character....full text
GuardianIf 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. Sometimes prolixity gets the better of the band, rendering the barrage of words and sounds airless and unreadable. But the balance of tension and release in Rifle Eyesight (Proper Name) is expertly managed, while Definite Darkness and The Current bring calm and a note of quiet bliss....full text
AvclubWith its second album, Lenses Alien, Cymbals Eat Guitars challenges The Hold Steady’s stronghold on chronicling the debauched exploits of bored kids. But where Hold Steady frontman Craig Finn recalls Charles Bukowski in his unfussy tales of the characters he’s encountered, Cymbals frontman Joseph D’Agostino is more like a beat poet, peppering his stream-of-consciousness lyrics with references to urban legends (“It is initiation season, so watch out for cars with no lights on”), scrambling “to the dunes to puke under the pale moon,” getting “so high we’d pass out with our shoes on,” and friends gone too soon. (“I said ‘From the age of 6 this boy did not want to live,’” goes “Gary Condit.”)
Subject matter is all Cymbals Eat Guitars has in common with The Hold Steady, and the former casts a wider thematic and sonic net than the latter. Knotty and dense, Lenses Alien opens with an eight-and-a-half-minute song, “Rifle Eyesight (Proper Name),” and the album’s swirling distortion and intense climaxes (like the end of “Keep Me Waiting”) make it an altogether different beast from The Hold Steady. The sound recalls ’90s indie rock, and like Cymbals Eat Guitars’ debut, Why There Are Mountains, Lenses Alien bears traces of Modest Mouse, Superchunk, Cap’n Jazz, Slint, and others, but the songs exude a craftsmanship that simple re-appropriation couldn’t achieve. The band may be trying too hard to emphasize that by opening the album with an epic track, but the point isn’t lost....full text
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