Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Review: Cymbals Eat Guitars - Why There Are Mountains (* * * *)

Everyone loves the idea of discovering the next big thing, but for every significant find, there are countless false alarms. When chatter started to build around the blogosphere about unsigned newcomers Cymbals Eat Guitars, I had enough on my plate and figured that a couple weeks would be enough time to let the buzz die down a bit. Of course, the buzz didn’t die down; it escalated quickly, with stellar reviews pouring in and comparisons to Modest Mouse, Pavement, and Built to Spill being thrown about with abandon. So I arrived a little late to the party, but I quickly came to realize what all the fuss was about. Why There Are Mountains is truly an exciting debut that lives up to the majority of the hype surrounding it, and Cymbals Eat Guitars have what appears to be a bright future ahead of them.

The music does often sound much like the sum of the aforementioned influences, but the band never takes too much from any one source. Instead they use what they borrow to build a foundation from which they create something that is very much their own. The nine tracks of Why There Are Mountains come in a variety of shapes and sizes, some emphasizing the group’s bombastic tendencies, some showing remarkable restraint, and most including a little of both. Opener “And the Hazy Sea” explodes from the speakers with crashing guitars and pounding drums before subsiding into a more delicate verse punctuated by bouts of shouting and noise that come and go throughout the track’s six minutes. It’s intense, raw, and unusually structured, with plenty to discover upon repeated listens.

From there, the record jumps into a more immediate number, “Some Trees (Merritt Moon),” which blazes through two minutes of gritty alternative rock after a slow-building introduction. “Living North” follows a similar pattern, with blaring guitars underlining singer Joseph D'Agostino’s earnest yelp in a brief blast of punk-inspired rock ‘n’ roll. Most of the songs, however, follow the pattern established on the opening track, with dynamic, seemingly formless songs transitioning from moments of tranquility into messy, noisy climaxes and back again. The fantastic “Cold Spring” rambles along with swirling strings adding a nice touch before the song takes off in a blissfully frenetic eruption of sound, while “Wind Phoenix (Proper Name)” blends bouncy pop melodies with moments of screamed nonsense.

Cymbals Eat Guitars also create some standout tunes with some of their quieter, subtler numbers. “Share” gently floats along on layers of distortion under D’Agostino’s faint, hazy vocals, slowly taking on additional layers of trumpet, percussion, and acoustic guitar until the joyous, upbeat finale finally takes off. “What Dogs See” feels almost removed from the rest of the album, with eerily reverbed backing vocals creating a claustrophobic, intimate feeling which transitions smoothly into the next track, and though it works best within the context of the album, it’s a worthwhile detour just the same.

Whatever the stylistic approach, Cymbals Eat Guitars match their youthful eagerness with serious musical chops and a sense of exploration that bodes great things for their future as a band to watch. Why There Are Mountains is not a flawless album, but it’s close enough to provide for 45 minutes of thoroughly compelling music. Confident, talented, and just a little uncool, these guys indeed have ‘the next big thing’ written all over them.

Last Word: With remarkable talent, a wealth of great ideas, and a love for 90s indie rock, Cymbals Eat Guitars have created one of the most solid debuts of 2009.