Still looking for their big breakthrough despite a loud hum of blogosphere buzz, US indie hopefuls Cymbals Eat Guitars have turned a corner on third album LOSE, distilling their complex, math-rock soundscapes into impassioned, fist-pumping anthems and joyous, bittersweet pop nuggets.
Taking their name from a Lou Reed quote, the Staten Island quartet became Pitchfork darlings with debut album Why There Are Mountains (2009) and follow-up Lenses Alien (2011), but the wider world failed to take much notice and the lads buried themselves with endless touring. Support slots with the Flaming Lips seemed to embolden frontman and chief songwriter Joseph D’Agostino though, and after taking stock, the band re-emerge hardened, hungrier and tighter than before, determined that things can be different this time.
Based around the death of D’Agostino’s former collaborator and a nostalgia for the times when music brought them an overriding sense of excitement, the triumph of LOSE is that it doesn’t bask in melancholy sniveling, but instead blasts along with proud-as-brass, stadium filling, booming anthems. It’s a big, cathartic release that throws away any twee, shoe-shuffling, nerd rock restraints and commits with a direct, full throttle honesty. Wallowing is off limits – glass raising toasts, teenage reminiscence and the odd bout of primal scream therapy is the order of the day.
Their single Warning captures this jolt of rampant energy. Swelling from sparse, alternative angst into a soaring, melodic crescendo, it’s an unashamed nod to 90s post-grunge heroes Smashing Pumpkins that revs the album into life and lays down a raucous tempo. With howling harmonicas and blasting guitars, XR keeps up that pace, looking you in the eye and screeching out vein bursting, punk thunder, whilst Chambers is a lush slice of preening pop that could easily soundtrack a 1980s John Hughes teen movie.
D’Agostino’s twitchy nasal snarl does grate the eardrums on the crooning lo-fi ballad Child Bride and things drift aimlessly on the indulgent prog sprawl of Place Names, but there is a new dynamism to the band that pits them somewhere between Arcade Fire, Hold Steady and Modest Mouse. From suburban back roads to lost desert high ways, LOSE is road movie Americana that roars and meanders through personal loss and heartache without many of the usual saccharine clichés. It stands up well against the heart-on-sleeve indie of contemporaries like War On Drugs, The Shins and The Wrens and could be a key turning point for the band.