A strange revelation indeed, as one of the first bands I thought of when listening to New York band Cymbals Eat Guitars was Ultrasound, the highly ambitious quintet who released the massive Everything Picture album at the height of Britpop.
It confounded critics and confused more than a few followers, but the scope of its ambition could never be denied, and it won them a hardy bunch of followers. Now Cymbals Eat Guitars may not look for the same size of anthem but they do share one thing with Ultrasound, and that’s a search for a unique take on music.
It’s a search they refuse to shirk from. Why There Are Mountains kicks off with a headlong rush, the effect for the listener akin to jumping into a pool of icy cold water. It’s a thrilling first minute with an immediate sense of occasion – so much so that anything following is likely to be billed as an anticlimax.
Happily that’s not the case, as the group seem to be always striving for new ways of saying things – but there’s a flipside to that approach too, as the restless riffing and occasional sonic outbursts can deflect away from the songs and their messages.
The orchestration is often sumptuous, deriving but not copying from 1960s pop with nice touches of psychedelia here and there. The vocal lines are at times awkwardly structured, but that doesn’t prevent songs such as Wind Phoenix (Proper Name) from having a spring in their step. Nor the impressively structured Like Blood Dies, which builds at a slower tempo before spilling over into something altogether more sprightly.
The quieter moments are just as important, and Share impresses this upon us. This curiously structured song begins with an air of foreboding as the engines tick over, the hymn-like falsetto vocals strangely difficult to pick up amongst the latent distortion, coming through on top with a sense of restrained euphoria. Then it gives way to plangent horns before Joseph D’Agostino can bear it no longer, crashing through with a guitar solo that manages to sound both heroic and crass at the same time. It’s indicative of the instinctive approach the band take to their songwriting.
Never judge a book by its cover, they say, but with Cymbals Eat Guitars it’s fine to do just that – the lush green grass and dense vegetation of their own artwork accurately reflected in their own music. They need a few listens for sure, but those persevering are rewarded with something rather unique and, at times, special.