I will readily admit that I visit Pitchfork nearly every day and this probably comes as no surprise to most of you regular Orgers. While I hate their elitist tendencies and willingness to mercilessly crush bands they once propped up, I continue to visit because I have been turned on to several undeniably great bands through them. If you avoid the site like the plague you have probably not heard of the band Cymbals Eat Guitars, as I’ve only seen them mentioned in a few places thus far. But I expect that to change very soon.
So allow me to relay the message to all of you punkers with a soft spot for unhinged, guitar-led, raspy-voiced indie rock about the next great NYC buzz band before they blow the fuck up. Cymbals Eat Guitars not only have an awesome name (maybe I love it more being a cymbal-crazy drummer who is often told he plays too loud), but they borrow across the country to an area known for birthing many of my favorite bands: the Northwest. I feel like I’m plagiarizing saying that yes, they borrow quite a bit from the aesthetics of Modest Mouse and Built to Spill, as that’s what everyone so far has said about them. And that’s cool with me, but better yet they simultaneously somehow don’t sound derivative, except, say, during the power-disco bridge of “Cold Spring” that sounds Lonesome Crowded West-as-hell, and even that still rules as singer/guitarist Joseph D’Agostino barks in a very Brock-aping manner. And sure, when “And the Hazy Sea” starts truly dying down after its second wind, D’Agostino plays an elastic wah-pedal lead line that is super-Doug Marsch, but it feels so right you won’t mind.
Cymbals structure and develop their songs in ways that nearly surpass their influences. They cover extreme louds and softs and shift tempos and feels seamlessly. I just mentioned “Cold Spring,” but I must bring it up again as it is a perfect example. It starts off gently with D’Agostino crooning "On the wa-ay home!" and then smashes into that disco part. It dies down but quickly revs back up to a rockin’ 3/4 (with a sweet sliding bassline by Neil Berenholz), then sneaks back to 4/4 to climax before a short cool-down finish. You will never mind their longer tracks because of this variety. And even the under-three-minute romp “Living North” has not one but two decrescendo sections sandwiched between uproarious refrains with its melodic guitar theme.
The young group borrows from heavily-mined influences from other corners of the globe as well, as the swirling ultra-fuzz guitars in the intro of “Share” sounds like they nabbed Kevin Shields for a guest spot. The thing about it is that, even as they borrow, they twist sounds into their realm, as “Share” eventually finds solid ground and builds with brass harmonies and a bending guitar solo.
Matthew Miller, who has been the groove behind D’Agostino since they were in 10th grade, lays down awesome but never showy beats and fills. I love the thunderous effect on his simple beat joining closer “Like Blood Does,” and he later handles the tempo change effortlessly with a light, driving feel. The keyboards on the album were played by Daniel Baer, who has since left and been replaced by Brian Hamilton who, from live footage, keeps up with the parts nicely. The keys focus on organs, piano and chiming synth sounds and effects, filling the soundscape in a sweet contrast to the oft-harsh guitars, but also adding to the onslaught on occasion. “Indiana” never loses its focus with the catchiest vocal on the album, but it also showcases the record’s studio flairs, which range from horns to strings to well-placed percussion, all the more surprising for a self-funded record. Thanks can surely go to Kyle “Slick” Johnson being at the helm, known previously for assisting in the engineering of the last Modest Mouse and Hives records. He caught an early live show and contacted the band, realizing their potential.
In an album full of high points, the highest peak of all is surely “Wind Phoenix (Proper Name).” The song, after twinkling wind chimes and bouncy bass, hits you with scalding trumpets followed soon after by the catchiest guitar lead you’ll hear this year. But it’s not all turned up to 11 here as they bring it down with faux-vibraphone keys while the song lightly shuffles along, only to later tear shit up again. My only minor problem with the album and the group is the limited ability to understand the lyrics, as I want to sing/scream along but can rarely understand what D’Agostino is laying down. From what I can tell, the lyrics are pretty cryptic, and here he says something like "Make love to inanimate objects." That’s cool; whatever you’re into dude.
As I gush about these guys I bring you the unfortunate fact that this album is a bitch to find. At the moment I only have MP3s of the album because of the lack of label and distribution. But you can buy it digitally if you go to their MySpace. The good news is that a very smart label (Sister’s Den) has picked up the album and will give it a proper release with new cover art on September 22nd. I recommend this band to anyone who likes the abovementioned bands, but I must stress that even though the influences are obvious, Cymbals Eat Guitars are no copycat act, bringing incredible songwriting, interesting instrumentations, and undeniable melodies to the table. Check ‘em out for yourself before Pitchfork decides they are now uncool.