Review Summary: "is it teeth-shaking polyphony grace and completion, or nothing?”8 of 10 thought this review was well written
Face it, Cymbals Eat Guitars debut album "Why There Are Mountains” was the most badass
indie album you’ve heard in a while. And it wasn’t exactly for pure quality reasons, though pure quality it was, but rather because it was an answer to every ‘Indie Purist's prayer”, who dreaded the day when Indie Rock became formatted, predictable, tamed, manned, neutered, spaded, and subdued. An answer to everybody who wished that every indie band would just stop trying to imitate ***ing
Radiohead. “Why There Are Mountains” was different, a throwback to early Built To Spill and Modest Mouse, except even crazier, enigmatic and out there. The equivalent to going from your local chlorine concentrated pool with ugly fat 12 year olds who nonchalantly finger their belly buttons to a tropical island; with an all you can eat buffet, unlimited daiquiris and topless young European chicks. I’m sorry music world, it doesn’t even compare.
Yet for all the praise one can lop onto “Why There Are Mountains” (and trust me, I can keep going and going and going…) it is in essence, a flawed record. Cymbals Eat Guitars has always been a band that relies on the climax, and they do it damn well. Unfortunately “Why There Are Mountains” was kind of like John Mayer in a whorehouse-it just didn’t show any restraint. Instead of focusing on the bands thematic potential, Cymbals Eat Guitars had to go for the knock-out punch on almost every single song, making a tensionless disjointed record, which while amazing, could have been so much more.
Lenses Aliens is a different beast all together. While “Why There Are Mountains” was plagued by a lack of restraint and tension, Lenses Alien has enough of both to make up for any grievances of their debut. Lenses Alien is, in summation, the complete statement the debut never was. The album patiently builds on the growing tension offered by each song, leading too and feeding off of short and powerful climaxes, until it quickly and violently explodes in the end. The musicianship has also been improved greatly. Each section of these songs are noticeably meticulously crafted. Just notice the fluttering keyboard notes in “Rifle Eyesight” or the near ambient riff in “Another Tunguska” struggling to be heard, or even the ridiculous amount of guitar tones used in every song. Every second of the album is filled with these minute yet essential touches. Effectively enhancing every unpredictable path these songs take.
But unfortunately the improved use of restraint and musicianship comes with a massive and undeniably cruel trade off, as all of the accessibility of Cymbals Eat Guitars debut has disappeared, and where the ***
it went to, well God Damn it if I know. Chaotic pop songs like “Wind Phoenix” and “Hazy Sea” have been replaced by songs which have kept the chaotic but decided that being poppy was for suckers. No song illustrates this better than “Rifle Eyesight” which opens with an astonishingly catchy guitar line, and than squanders any possible momentum with an abrupt 3-minute detour of aimless static. The song then effortlessly segues into 4 separate yet indistinguishable melodies leading towards a rushed last minute climax, which can only cause you to exclaim “What the ***!
”. Ironically it’s possibly the greatest song Cymbals Eat Guitar has ever made, but it’s going to take you multiple listens to even distinguish that fact. The album never lets up either, and even though the last half of Definite Darkness gives a merciful reprieve, the rest of the album proceeds with abandoning anything predictable or sane, tarnishing every promising riff with discordance, and avoiding any sense of order like it’s the bubonic plague. There are several potentially mind-blowing moments here, but instead of following through with a great idea, they tend to discard and leave them quicker than a torn condom. And yes, admittedly you have to admire the unbridled creativity flowing out of Lenses Alien, but unfortunately creativity has seemed to replace the art of functional song writing. I can understand and appreciate the bands abhorrence to the refrain, I would never wish that limitation on a wildcard like D'Agostino, but come on, is it too much too ask for a single hook?
Around your 15th listen you’ll finally grasp how jaw-dropping the last few seconds of the album is, where D'Agostino, through the static of crunching yet whirling guitars, screams ““is it teeth-shaking polyphony grace and completion, or nothing!?” (Actually, he only screams "nothing", but you get the point). It’s really a perfect line to end the album on, as it effortlessly expresses the entire dilemma of the album. “Is Lenses Alien a complete enjoyable statement, or is it an even bigger mess than their first album?”. The answer lies painfully in the middle. Cymbals Eat Guitar is still a force to be reckoned with musically, sonically, and vocally, and this might be the most masterful thing they’ve ever done, if only their listeners didn’t have to work so hard to enjoy it.