Pop Addict: Cymbals Eat Guitars’ Lenses Alien

Every Thursday, Pop Addict presents infectious tunes from contemporary musicians across indie rock, pop, folk, electronica, and more.

Cymbals Eat Guitars: Lenses AlienCymbals Eat GuitarsLenses Alien (Barsuk, 8/30/11)

Cymbals Eat Guitars: “Rifle Eyesight (Proper Name)”

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A couple of years ago, Staten Island-based Cymbals Eat Guitars released Why There Are Mountains, an arresting, noisy display of off-kilter rock songs mixed with a few hooks and left turns. For many listeners, the album came out of left field. Its raucous guitars, crashing drums, and frantic vocals made Cymbals Eat Guitars an instant sensation in the indie-music scene, and soon, it was one of the most respected bands — and one of the best surprises — of 2009.

Now, two years later, the band that’s often touted as being “on the rise” has returned with its second effort. Lenses Alien, the band’s first offering since signing to Barsuk, looks to establish the band as a staple in indie rock.

Lenses Alien picks up where Why There Are Mountains left off, and builds indispensably upon the recklessly nurtured garage rock that the band has seemed to perfect in its short career. Pinpointing the band’s sound is a tad difficult — the music has elements of the PixiesPavement, and Pinback — but it keeps in step with tried-and-true lo-fi methods. Indeed, with Lenses Alien, Cymbals Eat Guitars has added another chapter to the musical styling of its solid debut. With album opener “Rifle Eyesight (Proper Name)” clocking in at more than eight minutes, and riveting tracks like “Keep Me Waiting” and “Shorepoints,” the band seems intent on hitting listeners with the full force of its grunge-meets-pop capabilities.

If Why There Are Mountains oscillated between the heavy and the poppy, Lenses Alien is the integration of the two. Songs like “Definite Darkness” mix distorted, grinding guitars with undeniably catchy vocal hooks. And “The Current,” a song that begins engulfed in a slow-burning, droned-out guitar, is picked up by calculated drumming and delicate piano noodling. Meanwhile, “Wavelengths,” which begins with simple acoustic strumming, builds into a wild thoroughfare of electronics, drums, and frenzied vocals, before calming down again toward the end.

What’s most apparent about Lenses Alien is that there are a ton of ideas swirling around. Each track is never a straightforward arrangement; rather, it bends and twists and retreats back into itself before expanding outward and eventually exploding. There are starts and stops, tempo changes within a few measures of each other, and songs that fluctuate between the subdued and the epic.

In that sense, the album is challenging. It’s not something you can just switch on and “get,” necessarily. Listening to it means strapping in and waiting to see which highways you’ll be traveling — and at which speed — before seeing which exit each track will take. And though some albums with so much going on can just be too complicated for their own good — or be too intent on merely creating something different — Cymbals Eat Guitars is simply doing what it does best. By not only sticking to what the band members know but building on it, the band has crafted a sonically pleasing collection of freaked-out garage rock that is certain to turn a few heads.

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