There is a sea of discord that the listener must wade through in order to get to the “pretty bits” on Lenses Alien, the incendiary new record from Cymbals Eat Guitars. But the real talent of the New York quartet is in making the noise and musical chaos found throughout their sophomore release the most appealing aspect of their churning new album. This is not the sound of a band playing it safe. Far from it, actually. This is the sound of a self-assured, defiant young band reshaping the rules of modern music to suit their untamed impulses, and getting away with it.
No one looking for mass appeal opens their record with a dissonant, squall-ridden, nearly nine-minute track that even the most adventurous radio stations wouldn’t touch (full marks to those that do, however). And that brazen confidence and dedication to follow wherever their prodigious inspiration takes them–success be damned–is ultimately what makes Cymbals Eat Guitars so captivating and exhilarating. Well, that and the fact that bracing frontman Joseph D’Agostino writes ace songs and simply shreds on guitar.
Lenses Alien churns with an urgency and fitfulness that attests to the rapid-fire recording sessions, with the band hardly wasting a moment throughout these taut ten songs. But the tracks all manage to have an untethered, sprawling quality to them that imbues them with a fresh, unhinged spirit that is refreshingly rare in the tranquil current climate of the indie rock world. The epic, aforementioned opening track, ‘Rifle Eyesight (Proper Name),’ is proof positive of the band’s boundless ambition, starting off sounding like an early Modest Mouse demo before dissolving into a flurry of cacophonous feedback and devilish din. It has the tone and temper (and lengthy time frame) of an emphatic closing track, and the fact that the band chose this to be the first song on their new album is both a ballsy, triumphant move on their behalf, as well as a clear sign to casual listeners that if they are put off by this type of noise, then perhaps they shouldn’t dig much deeper.
But the rest of the album proves to be much less jarring, as the band apparently got most of their Sonic Youth/Mogwai leanings out of the way straight out of the box. ‘Shore Points’ settles things down just a bit before the mayhem continues on the dynamic bounce of ‘Keep Me Waiting,’ which echoes the finer moments of Superchunck. ‘Plainclothes’ again finds the band shifting the tempo down just a notch, before unleashing a flurry of guitars towards the song’s blustery finish.
The album’s strong middle section is anchored by ‘Definite Darkness’ and ‘Another Tunguska,’ with the former bristling with an insistence and vitality that belongs only to the young. ‘Tunguska’ is tinged with a wisdom and a worldliness of a band that has had their eyes open by touring the world, as well as a slowly churning melody and exquisite guitar work reminiscent of Built To Spill. But while there are elements of influences and inspiration threaded throughout Lenses Alien, the album remains an inventive, explosive work that is entirely of these unsettled times, seething with the frustrations of adolescence colliding head on with the growing sense of responsibility that maturity inevitably brings. And that combative struggle for control colours all of these impassioned numbers.
After the muted sonic experiments of ‘The Current’ and the slow-boiling ‘Wavelengths,’ the album draws strongly to a close with the explosive ‘Secret Family,’ a bold, fiery track that is the finest moment on a record consistently filled with highlights. The closing number, ‘Gary Condit,’ is named after the former U.S. Congressman who infamously had an extramarital affair with Chandra Levy, who was later found dead in a park in Washington, D.C. And while the lyrics are a bit veiled, the song packs an intense punch as well as a deeper accusatory message of blame and cowardice.
The album ends with another swelling wall of noise that was featured at the start, bringing this fully-realized work to an assertive, aggressive close. And, for Cymbals Eat Guitars, Lenses Alien represents another smart, inventive release that puts them squarely at the forefront of a new contingent of creative, experimental artists that are taking the noisy reverberations of music’s past into the clamorous unknown of the future.