Cymbals Eat Guitars find a sound that sticks in more ways than one with Pretty Years.Sinderlyn, 2016
7.4 / 10
When Cymbals Eat Guitars first came into Pitchfork/blog-buzz fame in 2009, it was on the back of complex, winding songs, with classic indie rock spread over prog-rock structures. Their first album, Why There Are Mountains, was a success, but it seemed that the hype had been too much, too fast. Their next two records, one a little weirder and one a little poppier, were both kind of transitional, the sound of a band trying out new things to see what sticks. With Pretty Years, the band seems to have settled on a sound, one that is rousing, seething, and solid.
Joe D’Agostino, one of the only founding members remaining and singer/guitarist, has moved from the band’s native Long Island to Philadelphia recently, and the move seems to have affected him both lyrically and musically. His noisy, short-circuiting guitar solos draw from the 90s indie-rock influence that has always been the band’s bread and butter, but also from the lo-fi basement shows of Philly. On “4th of July”, he recounts a tale of drunken woe in Kensington, one that supposedly drew him out of his shell, and, more importantly, trumped his writing block. It’s a little heavy-handed, but the wide-open chorus is the catchiest thing he’s written. On “Wish” he adopts a Waitsian growl between horn hits that are equal parts E-Street and Liberty Place, but the subpar tune underneath smolders instead of soaring. “Finally” is the best choice for an album opener, an announcement of blood-pumping pop, spiraling synth hooks and all.
On Pretty Years, the band has finally decided to dive right into classic song structures, towering choruses and earworm riffs. It’s satisfying to hear the band unleash so much cathartic energy, as on “Beam” or “4th of July, Philadelphia (SANDY)”, and for the most part the songs are solid, full of clear-cut melodies and raucous guitar solos. The production, from John Congleton, is always exciting—noisy and dense, with expanses of lonely space. The thrumming bass is distorted and angry on “4th of July” and full of cocaine and funk on “Wish”. The drums, usually playing intricate, dynamic parts, are content to lay down a backbeat here, and the album is all the better for it. The band would not have been able to arrive at this simplified sound without having the experience of their complex early music, but now that they’ve arrived here, it’s hard not to think that they have an even better rock n’ roll album in them.