Cymbals Eat Guitars are not ones to typically settle for the standard. They're often caught in a quest to become part of a dichotomy of originality amongst the indie rock scene. Their blend of showgaze with indie elements has always made them a strong force.
Their last record was 2014's LOSE, a critically acclaimed record for the band. Often hailed as one of their best, it came with hardships. Those challenges served as an inspiration for their new record, Pretty Years. Vocalist and guitarist Joseph D'Agostino explained: "In a dark moment on tour for LOSE, I said something to [bassist Matt Whipple] about losing my pretty years quickly because of touring, how the lifestyle ages you." He continued, "Months later when we were writing for the record, he came to me with the lyrics for that chorus and I wrote the song around them." These sentiments of a hard time on the road are what gave birth to the track '4th Of July, Philadelphia (Sandy)'.
Pretty Years is very much an of-this-moment record. It seems to capture the present in order to let go of the demons of the past. Closure track 'Shrine' is the climax to message, where D'Agostino chants of running away from the pressures of reality in order to come to terms with his past. The sentiment of this album being a very present-oriented one also became clear in the studio; discussing the recording of the album, D'Agostino claimed, "With this record... I think we nailed it this time. First or second takes of everything, real hunger in the performances. Just something to prove," the nature of the record becoming clear from the start, not just by meaning but spiritually for the band.
It's unique qualities become most clear in the track 'Wish', which is dominated by screeching saxophones, harmonizing in the most tortured of ways, seemingly not by intention. The powerful build leads to a squeaky ending but it's hard to escape the demanding brass that carries the track through. 'Dancing Days' also provides something new, and sitting at the center of the album, definitely becomes its core. It gets off with a slow start with splashy keys before exploding in the chorus with massive drum fills delivered by Andy Dole. The song is a cumulation of excellence from the band, as the song bursts into its emotional conclusion with D'Agostino yelling "Goodbye to my pretty years."
As personal as it sounds, it does leave something to desire after the end. Previous efforts from the band felt fulfilled. This album seems to go through moments of shine but at the end, it's only isolated moments you can remember that bring the album together. While explosive and definitely a jam, for example, the punk rock attitude of 'Beam' feels like less of a part of the record as it does a filler to provide some energy mid-way in. It's especially at the ending of the record before it's conclusion that the album seems to lose momentum, and that starts with 'Beam'. 'Mallwalking' is a slow mover, almost dramatic. It has a cool guitar going on in it but it's meaning seems lost in that disposition. It's a bit awkward coming out of 'Beam', but the lyrics seem to at least attempt to bring it back into the course of the record. 'Well' is also a good track, but feels simply out of place. Outside of the album's meaning, it's still one of the standout tracks with a poppy start that makes way for a big ending and fantastic buildup.
Cymbals Eat Guitars' approach to Pretty Years was spontaneous, and more of a release of emotions than a busywork record. It's personal for the band, for sure, and that comes off in a lot of tracks. It seems to lose sight of that at times, though, and becomes nothing more than a throwing out of emotions in an aimless fashion. It may not be as cohesive as other records, but it feels like the album the band needed.
Favorite Tracks: Dancing Days, Wish, Well
Least Favorite Track: Beam