Cymbals Eat Guitars evolve and impress on “Pretty Years”

By William Plotnick

(William Haun/Flickr)
(William Haun/Flickr)

Most bands don’t aspire to be popular because of who influences them. Yet this was the case with New York based rock band Cymbals Eat Guitars.

After the release of their 2009 debut, album “Why There Are Mountains,” music critics galore rushed to identify the famous bands they believed to have influenced the Cymbals Eat Guitars’ indie-rock/punk style. Lead vocalist/guitarist Joseph D’Agostino’s voice was compared to that of Isaac Brock (Modest Mouse,). The band’s riffs and catchy rhythmic guitar was compared to bands such as Pavement, Dinosaur Jr. and Built to Spill.

As a band whose own name was derived from a Lou Reed quote describing the sound of The Velvet Underground, it seems that Cymbals Eat Guitars never much cared about how critics characterized their sound, realizing themselves that it was influenced by an array of artists.

Seven years following the debut record that initiated these comparisons, Cymbals Eat Guitars have released their fourth LP, “Pretty Years.” What was once the group that all could peg is no longer so easily characterized. With “Pretty Years,” released Sept. 16, Cymbals Eat Guitars have released a record that rightfully avoids stereotypical categorization, showcasing a more confident and singular sound that is entirely their own.

The album’s opening track, “Finally,” expands with a powerful detonation of electric guitar riffs and chords that soon ease into a steady rhythmic tune. As D’Agostino begins to sing, these chords mesh together perfectly with his achy, vibrating voice.

D’Agostino continues to be fed by whamming chords, and as the song hits its mid-way point, his voice descends into a droning psychedelic loop. Not only is this opening track catchy, but one can also notice the band’s more recent experimentation with recording techniques.

“Wish” is an especially funky song that utilizes trumpets and synths in musical styles that Cymbals Eat Guitars have never tried before. Catchy snare drumming provides the tempo, while trumpets burst into an Ornette Coleman-style frenzy of free form expression.

As the trumpets subside, a new catchy synth rhythm ascends to the track’s surface, adding a new dance element to what can only be considered a groovy song. Despite the unfamiliar sounds, D’Agostino does not radically change his vocal approach. His singing is still raspy and epic, and his voice will at times even develop into a semi-scream. Yet, somehow the band’s unique combination of punk and funk sounds works brilliantly.

“Close” continues the train of catchy and wavy songs that “Pretty Years” brings forth. “Close” might remind one of the perfect summer day on the beach. With its harmonious backing vocals that pleasantly support D’Agostino’s voice, and a catchy and progressive guitar-based rhythm, the song will leave one feeling reflective and nostalgic.

These songs have an easiness to them, and “Close” shows Cymbals Eat Guitars becoming completely comfortable with their personal sonic aesthetic.

The album’s penultimate track, “Well,” is its strongest. Blending a 70s synth pop sound with passionate lyrics and melodious, falsetto backing vocals, D’Agostino finds himself at the top of his game.

With “Well,” Cymbals Eats Guitars takes a time machine back to an era where everything was much groovier. By adding their own twists—in the form of D’Agostino’s raspy voice and the experimental riff that concludes the song—they find a way to make a 70s style their own.

With “Pretty Years,” Cymbals Eat Guitars have proven that the extraordinary sonic experience that was their last record, “Lose,” was no fluke. Avoiding the trap of becoming defined by labels, while delving into a livelier realm of musical obscurity, Cymbals Eat Guitars have defined themselves as one of the most innovative and catchy sounding rock bands out there today.

Giving “Pretty Years” a listen is bound to bring happiness to all alternative-rock craving ears.

William Plotnick can be reached at [email protected]