(Artwork care of Karen Ramsay (www.karenramsay.com), profile photo care of brianlackeyphotography.com)

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

CD review - Cymbals Eat Guitars, Lenses Alien (2011)

Sophomore release paints a progressive, post-indie rock sonic landscape

Lenses Alien is an impressive follow up to 2009's Why There Are Mountains (review here). As on their debut, Cymbals Eat Guitars still restlessly shift directions, but the changes are more fluid and seem less capricious. The band continues to experiment with controlled chaos a la Wilco's Yankee Hotel Foxtrot and to explore Trail of Dead style post rock. But now they've introduced more of the raw energy of their live sound.

That energy drives Lenses Alien forward musically, but the band seems to have a fatalistic air and the lyrics are more oblique. It can be hard to tease out the words, but they often allude to darker subjects. Plainclothes shows off the best and worse of this. The words bounce around in a stream of consciousness flow, from thoughtful:
I feel the ghost of all the parties still happening
Right on this very spot that I am standing
Kids are blissing in the spare room
Light years away
to the threatening:
It is initiation season
So watch out for the cars with no lights on
If you flash them they would swing around
Then follow you home

Along the way Cymbals Eat Guitars tease with phrases like "Dry mushrooms taste a lot like communion wafers". The music has detuned, dreamy moments as well as punk-worthy snarl and unfocused thrash. A lot is crammed into a brief four minutes or so but the music is more coherent than the lyrical flow.

Cymbals Eat Guitars offered a first taste of Lenses Alien last month. The epic leading track is called Rifle Eyesight (Proper Name). It sprawls through a mix of indie rock and psychedelic sections, split by a cathartic swirl of sound. That progressive feel permeates the other songs. The band leans more towards a sectional structure than simpler verse-chorus blocks.

Sometimes, a superficial listen tricks the ear that the band does slip in a chorus in songs like Keep Me Waiting. But, like a shark, the song moves constantly forward and doesn't find words worth repeating. The arrangement feels more standard in large part to the heavy Replacements influence. The track kicks off like it belongs on Sorry Ma, Forgot To Take Out the Trash. The thrashing guitars hit that Replacements sound and Joseph D'Agostino's voice even reaches toward Paul Westerberg. It doesn't matter whether it's a homage or just channeling from deeper currents.

Even if the lyrics often slide too far into beat poetry expressiveness, the musical vision always rescues the songs from self indulgence. Lenses Alien is messy, trippy, and an intriguing sonic landscape.

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