Monday, September 30, 2013

Indie rockers Yuck boldly return with new ideas and new frontman

Yuck frontman Daniel Blumberg made a curious decision earlier this year. After roughing it out with various projects, he had finally achieved his biggest breakthrough to date with his band's self titled debut in 2011. At the seeming height of his success, Blumberg walked away to focus on a project called Hebronix, leaving bandmates Max Bloom, Mariko Doi, and Jonny Rogoff scrambling for a new direction. The good news about the band's sophomore album, Glow and Behold, is that it is recognizably Yuck. They haven't transformed into an entirely different band, as some naysayers prognosticated around the time of Blumberg's departure.

To the contrary, the band now presents a more mature sounding record that is no longer as beholden to their influences as they were on their debut. Nor are they buried under a wall of distortion like they were before. And while their first album sounded like a starry-eyed teenager's 90s pop bedroom fantasy, the Yuck of Glow and Behold sound much more grown up and musically adventurous. Their change in perspective becomes immediately obvious on "Out of Time," a breezy, self assured indie rock tune with crisp guitar and a smooth, serene vocal performance from Bloom. Doi, now serving as the band's primary backing vocalist, delivers a gorgeous vocal aria to close it out. Bloom, for his part, does an commendable job taking over the frontman's role. Whether you prefer Bloom or Blumberg in terms of vocal capability will come down to personal opinion, but the two are cut from the same cloth. Neither are particularly flashy or showy -- just solid, quality singers.

The change in direction is more obvious in other areas, however. Whereas Yuck was an album bolstered by strong hooks and catchy melodies, the followup is more concerned with the background texture and coloring of the songs. "Lose My Breath" and "Middle Sea" may be reminiscent of their older material, but "Rebirth" draws inspiration from a different corner of the 90s. With its haze filled and hypnotic chord pattern, it sounds like a My Bloody Valentine song, thus showing they can be true to their 90s roots while doing it in different ways. In other places, the experimentation is more subtle. "How Does It Feel" offers some new touches by delivering spacey slide guitar, along with a Neutral Milk Hotel style horn section in the beginning.

There are a few softer ballads along the way, some more successful than others. "Nothing New" is the most emotionally raw and honest piece on the entire album, while others like "Somewhere" do an admirable job but don't live up high bar set by previous pieces like "Suicide Policeman" and "Sunday." And of course, the title track and album closer is another bonafide piece of great indie pop/rock. Yet despite all of the positive developments, Blumberg's absence is still roundly felt. His skills as a guitarist and songwriter cannot be understated. The melodic guitar leads that were a highlight in previous songs like "Get Away" and "Shook Down" are heard much less often on Glow and Behold.

Although songs like "Glow and Behold" and "Out of Time" certainly offer up catchy indie pop, the rugged Dinosaur Jr. inspired cuts from Blumberg boasted much stronger melodies, were tighter, and more anthemic. They tended to stay with you longer due to the simplicity of their delivery and the exuberant celebration of youth that he infused into those songs. Those type of intangibles are difficult to replace, and alas Yuck sounds much less likely to let their hair down here. Therefore, it's a difficult case to make that they're better off without Blumberg; for that matter, it's hard to argue that this record is better than the first. Fair or not, it seems it's Glow and Behold's fate to be compared to their Blumberg era material. But if you're willing to look beyond that you'll find Yuck is still a vibrant and creative force laying down their new identity, and seem to have the opportunity to move in directions even Blumberg couldn't take them.

Score: 84/100

No comments: