It’s safe to say that London-based foursome Cymbals are not ones for vanishing off the face of the earth for a few years between releases. The band’s new record, called The Age Of Fracture after Princeton academic Daniel T Rodgers’ book of the same name, is their third album in a little over three years – if you take into consideration 2012’s mini album, Sideways, Sometimes.
Despite the speed and consistency of the band’s work rate, there has been a clear progression from their debut album, Unlearn, since its release in 2011. While it was by no means a failure, Cymbals’ first effort received mixed reviews, with some commenters suggesting they were essentially a poor man’s Foals. They took the criticism on board and returned a year later with a much sleeker sound for the hastily recorded Sideways, Sometimes.
The move towards disco-infused synth pop suggested that Cymbals had finally discovered exactly what sort of band they wanted to be. Since then, the signs ahead of The Age Of Fracture have been promising, with nine-minute epic Like An Animal creating a substantial amount of buzz when it arrived late in 2012. It was followed by a further three singles last year, including the compelling The Natural World, which demonstrated a newfound confidence and willingness to experiment.
That ambition has carried on into the finished album, produced by Dreamtrak (Swim Deep, Hot Chip) in his Hackney studio and written collectively over 12 months. Unlike previous work from Cymbals, The Age Of Fracture has a clear theme running throughout. In fact, the creative juices were such that the album ended up inspiring British poet and novelist Joe Dunthorne – best known for his novel Submarine – to write a short story about it.
Musically, the album sees the band move away from their Talking Heads-inspired debut, with the attention to detail creating a much more direct and polished effort. Opener Winter ’98 sets the tone perfectly, with Jack Cleverly’s husky vocals – delivered in French – accompanying a wondrous, searching synth line. As mentioned previously, The Natural World is another standout, with a low, rumbling beat slowly materialising into a glimmering slice of synth pop.
The band’s development is further exhibited by Empty Space, which is a far more understated track. It revolves around a slick synth beat reminiscent of AlunaGeorge’s brilliant Attracting Flies, as Cleverly’s vocal dances over the top, singing: “You don’t want to go in the usual direction/ just lean to the side and you make up a reason.” The song’s restrained melody makes it an attractive proposition, with a directness that was previously absent in their work.
Single Erosion is another example of the band’s more forthright approach on The Age Of Fracture, with the purposeful guitars providing something a bit different to the synth pop lurking elsewhere on the record – without ever sounding out of place. Then there’s the brooding pair of This City and The End, where Cymbals return to their synths, but this time with a much more sinister edge. Both are fascinating examples of what this band is capable of.
That said, The Age Of Fracture is by no means perfect. Occasionally the four-piece attempt to do too much – with a prime example being the chaotic The 5% – while songs such as closer Call Me and the title track are unlikely to last long in the memory. However, when you have material as good as Like An Animal, a few missteps here and there can be forgiven.
Ultimately, Cymbals have returned with a record that completes an impressive transformation for the band, one that has shaken off the scrappy punk side that held them back on their debut record. The movement towards synth pop is arguably a risky one, especially considering how congested that particular market is already. Yet, Cymbals show enough promise on The Age Of Fracture to suggest that they are in it for the long haul.