In 2013, Yuck lead signer Daniel Blumberg made the questionable decision to leave the band in order to focus on his solo career. Stranger Things is the reshuffled four piece’s third release since, but does Blumberg’s contribution to their brilliant eponymous debut album still loom over them?
Losing your lead signer is always going to have a detrimental effect on a band. But, it’s how a band reacts to that departure that separates the strong from the dependent. Do you reinvent yourselves, proving you were never background puppets on your leader’s creative string, or do you stick with the same sound but with a different signer? Whatever your move, it’s trial and error until something sticks. It’s been three years since Yuck lost Blumberg, and having only released a forgettable album and an even more forgettable EP since, it’s led to their new album, Stranger Things, becoming something of a make or break moment.
It’s worth adding that their immediate post-Blumberg output, which saw guitarist Max Bloom promoted to vocals, wasn’t supposed to be amazing - they act as recovery releases for a band still trying to stabilise themselves and find their sound. Stranger Things opens with all guns ablaze, alluding to a welcome heavier direction. Opener “Hold Me Closer” is probably the best song here, with distorted, almost desperate vocals floating on top of a simple, yet addictive, riff. It feels natural as an opening track, maybe even a live opener too, but it’s unfortunate that what follows doesn’t really reach the same heights. It leaves you feeling like Yuck set the bar too high, too early.
The following track, “Cannonball”, reinforces hope of heavier direction that’s oozing with confidence and dominance (“I’m gunna watch you fall”), but what’s to come afterwards takes a softer turn. Softening things up isn’t always a bad thing, but for this album, hitting a soft spot sees the confidence from “Cannonball” stripped bare in the freezing cold, leaving just insecurities and despair shivering uncomfortably. The title track, “Stranger Things”, has the dreary chorus “I hate myself” repeated over and over, like a teenager’s Tumblr feed after the end of another playground relationship.
This isn’t a bad album, though. It’s actually pretty good, but most of the songs have the same problem - they drag. All the truly great albums leave us wanting more, because we feel like their songs are too short, or there aren’t enough tracks on it - it’s a natural human desire to crave what you can’t have. So when you give people actually what they want, or even more than they want, they get bored. A lot of songs on Stranger Things, consequently, outstay their welcome. With six songs out of the album’s 11 stretching beyond the four-minute mark, it becomes a bit of an exhausting listen because nothing attention-grabbing really happens. “Down” is an example of this, sounding like a stale Real Estate B-side with its jangly guitars and softly, semi-spoken singing— entwining songs that have excess fat with a mood that is slow paced and pseudo-melancholic makes a cocktail that’s more yawn than yuck.
There are times on the album, particularly towards the end, where the listener is at risk of becoming the album artwork’s protagonist. Having taken your shoes off anticipating a relaxing listen, you force your eyes closed and slowly start to melt away, surrounded by the creative canvas of the album, which is blank. Yuck are clearly a band still trying to find themselves (aren’t we all?) after the stripping of their original identity. This album is a far cry from the 90’s American college-radio rock of their Blumberg-indebted debut, but, for a seemingly make or break record, Stranger Things just doesn’t really take enough risks.