Cymbals Eat Guitars
Back in 2009, Cymbals Eat Guitars first caught my attention with their first single,“And the Hazy Sea.” The song was a mish-mash of indie rock, a Pavement meets Superchunk meets The Pixies meets Built to Spill meets Modest Mouse type of conglomeration that one could only dreamed of in the mid-90s. I can still remember the first time I heard the song as a sample on a music website and how instantly I transformed into a teenager in that moment, re-connecting with all the greats from the previous decade. Unfortunately, the rest of the debut album, Why There Are Mountains, didn’t quite live up to the frenzied tide of “And the Hazy Sea,” but I still expected a bright future from the band.
In 2011 they returned with Lenses Alien, an album that received favorable reviews but still lacked the same intensity of that first track. I chocked it up to a band striking gold once and never seeing the light again. Thankfully, my assessment was completely wrong.
It seems that what the band was missing most from their music was a pure, honest soul, the key ingredient to their introspective 2014 release, LOSE. You still won’t find songs as crushing as “And the Hazy Sea” on LOSE; instead, the band takes on a more indie-pop persona, tackling difficult content with wry wit and gut-wrenching honesty.
LOSE is an album about just that – loss. Seven years ago, front-man Joseph D’Agostino lost his best friend, Ben High, at the age of 19 to a heart condition. On past albums, references to the death weren’t dealt with lyrically because D’Agostino wasn’t ready to tackle the sensitive content quite yet. But in a recent interview, D’Agostino said of the new album, “I feel like, as an artist, I’m ready to do the subject matter justice.”
And D’Agostino doesn’t pull any punches. Track after track takes on the devastating loss with frank candor and exposed heart. The rumpus punkabilly song “XR” takes the death head on, reminiscing about when they’d visit “Vintage Vinyl to score some CD’s/ For ripping rails not listening,” the time they “watched ‘Faces of Death’/ and…regretted it,” and when they’d “drive down to Philly/…To see the Wrens in a rec room.” But the song isn’t all rose-colored memories. D’Agostino now finds himself “at Ben’s MySpace grave” and ponders “The songs we never wrote/They float above and below me.” He’s not only haunted by a “rock n’ roll ghost” but also a “Keepsake tinnitus” that “shrieks (him) to sleep/ Each frequency a memory of some/Show attended.” The song is both overwhelming and strangely cathartic.
Ben’s death is at the forefront throughout the album, but as a whole, LOSE is dealing with more than just the loss of a friend – it’s an album about the loss of youthful exuberance. While “XR” reminisces about days of yore, other songs explore the perpetual drain upon our inner-child. In place of the carefree teenager who cruised the streets listening to records is a shell of a man who on “Places Names” realizes “There’s no word for what I became.” The album opens with “Jackson,” a hell of a audacious song that details a trip to Six Flags to ride the rollercoasters he once enjoyed as a child. Instead, this exhilarating coaster ride turns into a depressing allegory of “Falling forward alone / with the space sickness.” Throughout the album he seeks means of reconnecting with his past joys through various drugs and unsuccessful trips to nostalgic haunts, but all they provide is more emptiness and feelings of defeat.
LOSE isn’t just an album chock full of lyrical complexity; all of the tracks are also finely constructed pop-punk melodies. The rhythm section bounds forth with high energy throughout, and the guitars fill in the emptiness that surrounds each song of desperation. Some may find D’Agostino’s raspy whine a bit off-putting, but I’d argue that his passionate caterwauling perfectly suits the emotional heft of the album. In a strange ironic twist, this album lamenting the loss of youthful joy provides the listener with glimmers of those feelings from days of yore when music meant everything to you.