With so many bands citing late 80s/early 90s alternative rock bands as influences, there’s no denying today’s scene is fueled by nostalgia. Never in my life have I heard the term “wall of guitars” being thrown around so loosely to describe the sound of a band. If a band features a guitar, and doesn’t sound like New Wave dance rock, odds are they label themselves “shoegaze”. While some modern bands like Beach House and The Lees Of Memory have deep rooted influences in the sub-genre, most simply just have guitars in their line up. Band who label themselves “shoegaze” is basically code for “We kinda suck as musicians, so we’ll drone on three chords with digital effects!” In fact, if DIIV‘s frontman focused less on trying to be this generation’s Kurt Cobain, and spent more time creating interesting music, I probably wouldn’t have fallen asleep twice while listening to their latest album. Of course I’m not here to bash DIIV, or any band utilizing their 90s influences, but it’s obvious how plenty bands today who have latched onto the shoegaze revival, are clearly using the system Oasis abused in their attempt to convince the world they were the next Beatles.
Take note indie musicians: You are NOT going to be the band that inspired you. Devote your time and energy into creating something new. It’s completely fine to be influenced or pay homage to your favorite bands/artists, but trying to emulate controversies, legal matters, or anything outside of their music, is unacceptable. It ruins your credibility and could potentially turn fans off completely (such myself). Rant Over.
Now back to Yuck…
On a positive note, perhaps this obsession with yesterday’s trends, is rock n roll’s longing to be relevant again? Remember; in the early 90s Skid Row and Slaughter had multi-platinum albums before Nirvana epitomized what the every-man’s rock star was about, and solidified alternative rock as one of the most profitable sub-genres of the decade. A time when every kid felt as if they had a chance to achieve success in the music industry just by expressing their angst and pounding out a few power chords on an inexpensive guitar. It was a revolution even! It was okay to be ugly and have minimal talent, as long as you were legit, the world was your oyster! Sadly, being influenced by the era has become it’s very own cliche these days, and it’s exhausting to tell the bands apart from each other. Especially when they use the same format of “overly distorted guitar drone + fuzzy bass + low volume vocals”.
Yuck hit the scene during the shoegaze revival in it’s infancy, or at least when most buzz bands were still bent on sounding like the diet version of New Order. Their 2011 self titled debut was met with universal acclaim and was praised for it’s throwback sound influenced by the likes of My Bloody Valentine and Dinosaur Jr. It was a breath of fresh air and a promising start. Not only was it one of my favorite records of the year, but it revitalized my own love for the bands who influenced them. It was a short lived party though, before the band began work on it’s follow up, front man and founder Daniel Blumberg left to pursue other projects, promoting guitarist Max Bloom to lead vocals. Their second album Glow & Behold, while being a solid outing, lacked the same appeal and saw the band moving into a sleepier direction, very different from their debut.
With a few years of finding their footing, Yuck have returned with their third LP Stranger Things. Right from the start, the band has taken their previous record’s criticisms to heart and went back to a sound that made their debut so special. “Hold Me Closer” kicks things off with a poised, upbeat riff and a slightly distorted, double tracked vocal hook that sounds as if they traded their My Bloody Valentine influence for that of Teenage Fanclub. The trend continues with the follow-up track “Cannonball” which sees Yuck dipping it’s toes in Mathew Sweet power pop territory, a much welcomed change from the aggressive attitude of the previous release.
After getting the up-tempo songs out of the way early on, Stranger Things mellows out and finds itself in a nice mid-tempo groove that brings the lyrical content into better focus. Thematically it sounds as if this album is a much more personal effort. Most of the lyrics deal with the sadness that comes with break-ups, insecurities of becoming and adult, and even adult self-loathing, but with a silver lining that comes with maturity. What feels like the end of the world to an inexperienced teenager can feel like like a minor annoyance to a thirty-something. That transition of young adult into the person you become for the rest of your life, is kind of where this album sits.
The lyrics, “I hate myself, I hate myself , I hate myself” featured on the title track, could seem very dire and emo on paper, but when put to the backdrop of jangly guitars and britpop swagger, the line takes a very different meaning. Even though the track is about finding yourself after a break-up, I can’t help but to think of it as an introspective story of what the band could have experienced while working on Stranger Things. Yuck had a promising start with a buzzworthy album, only to be taken down a few notches by a somewhat misguided follow up thanks to the line up change. Dealing with a change like that so early on, would mean certain death to most bands, but somehow they weathered the storm and came out victorious and arguably a better band because of it. After quite a few listens, I think I actually prefer this line-up to the original.
Stranger Things does show signs of wearing influences on their sleeves though, “Hearts In Motion” sounds like Dinosaur Jr, “Swirling” has a Lemonheads vibe, “Stranger Things” is totally Superdrag, “Yr Face” is more Smashing Pumpkins than anything Billy Corgan has put out in over a decade. “As I Walk Away” comes out of left field sounding very Fleetwood Mac like. Combine those with the standard influences Yuck already had, and you can almost make a drinking game of “Who is this song ripping on”. That doesn’t make it a bad thing, I love all of those bands and it warms my heart to hear a band play tribute to all of them in 2016, but it’s still relying on nostalgia as it’s driving force. It’s kind of sad to hear a song on a Yuck album and the first thought that pops up in your head is “hey this song sounds like Sparklehorse!” instead of “Hey this song sounds like Yuck!” but I guess nostalgia is the secret word of the day, isn’t it?
Overall, Stranger Things reminds me of the era I grew up in, and I can’t help myself from being in love with the familiarity of it all. Unlike some of the current buzz bands, who call the cops on themselves in hopes to being arrested for heroin possession, so the media associates them to the likes of Nirvana, Yuck celebrates their influences by paying homage in their art instead of public image. They have created music that is warm, familiar, and inviting; like coming back home after two years and eating a Mom cooked meal while she does your laundry. For that aspect alone, it’s worthy of purchase.
Aaron (or Coop) is a freelance writer, multi-instrumentalist and overall lover of all things music. As an advocate for indie record labels and artists, he is passionate about local scenes and do-it-yourself artistry. If it’s good, it’s good. If it’s bad, he’s not afraid to explain why.