Believe it or not, there was once a time that ‘indie rock’ didn’t mean identikit boys with guitars, haircuts and skinny black jeans. In the ’80s and ’90, indie rock (especially in the US) was decidedly weird.
There was Pavement, who had a drummer that performed handstands in the middle of gigs and handed out cabbage to the audience. There was Built To Spill, all weird time signatures and tempo changes, or the ‘none more lo-fi’ Guided By Voices. Your average audience at V Festival would have been most confused.
It’s those halcyon days that Cymbals Eat Guitars hark back to. Indeed, at times during this follow up to debut album Where There Are Mountains, it sounds like you’re listening to a Superchunk tribute album, such is the DIY aesthetic and willingness to experiment.
Take the first track, and nominal ‘single’, Rifle Eyesight (Proper Name) – it takes some balls to begin your album with an eight and a half minute song where the melody appears to be in a contradictory direction to the vocals, which meanders around like a drunk at a wedding for the first five minutes, before wrapping up by transforming into an elegiac drone reminiscent of Spiritualized.
It sounds dreadful on paper, but there’s an indefinable quality to Lenses Alien that just keeps you coming back to it. The sheer variety on offer may have something to do with it – the bright and breezy Keep Me Waiting is a radio hit in the making, Definite Darkness features a pleasing contrast between strange time signatures and sweet harmonies while Joseph D’Agostino’s vocals on Plainclothes alternate between sweet crooning and anguished whispering.
Cymbals Eat Guitars aren’t deliberately obtuse, however. Indeed at times they sound almost commercial, as on the gorgeously melancholic Wavelengths or Shore Points. D’Agostino’s vocals recall Elliott Smith at times, a young Paddy McAloon at others. It’s difficult to work out what he’s on about most of the time – not because the lyrics are incomprehensible, they’re just almost exclusively abstract and cryptic – but somehow that just adds to the fun of listening.
They’re a difficult band to classify, and there’s no doubt that some people will be scared away by just how busy the album sounds – at times, it gives the impression of about two or three different songs playing at once. For those who have become a bit jaded at the state of guitar music however, this could be just the tonic you’re looking for.