Cymbals Eat Guitars: Playing on Prefix

Written by

Playing on Prefix is a feature on KCRW’s Music Blog in which writers from the eclectic music site Prefix hip you to what’s coming out of their computer speakers each week:

Cymbals Eat Guitars, though, is a bit more ambitious. The slack-rockers of yore were never quite as lazy as the press made them out to be, but Cymbals frontman Joe D’Agostino brings a particular Millenial sensibility to the task of ’10s guitar rock. He takes the energy (and Adderall) that his peers have expended on LSATs and recession-proof resumes, and channels it into picking up right where (good late-’90s) Built to Spill left off.

Cymbals Eat Guitars – Rifle Eyesight (Proper Name) by memphisindustries

Much has been made of the album–Lenses Alien, their second–opening with the nearly ten minute long “Rifle Eyesight.” But what really impresses about the song is not its length. Many have the confidence to make a long song; talk to your local jam band for evidence. Fewer have the confidence to fill their long song–what might be many people’s first introduction to their band–with close to three minutes of staticky white noise. Yet if Why There Are Mountains, their debut, taught us anything, it’s that Cymbals Eat Guitars can expertly manage tension and release. That album’s “Share” cycled through nearly six minutes of noise before giving the eternal climax of “Gold Soundz” a paranoid 21st-century polish. “Rifle Eyesight” never delivers in the same way, but one gets the feeling that that’s by design: This is an album, not a collection of mp3s, and “Rifle Eyesight” sets up the tension that the band spends the next half hour joyfully defusing.

And it’s not just musically that Cymbals Eat Guitars distinguishes itself from a generation of indie rock musicians increasingly content with grave-robbing (or home-robbing; most of the acts Cymbals looks up to are alive, live in the suburbs, and routinely release poor facsimiles of their best work). Where a band like Yuck (charmingly) writes lyrics at a 5th-grade reading level (“trying to make it through the wall/you can see me if you’re tall”), D’Agostino sounds like someone who could talk about Wowee Zowee and Bukowski with equal wit and grace. I mean, can you imagine whatever synth-revivalists are popular at the moment singing a line like “undulating mirror images of incandescent light” from behind their neon wayfarers? I might have no idea what he’s saying, per se, but its evocative in the way that great Built to Spill lyrics used to be. (And hey, Doug Martsch always said that he chose words more for their sound than their meaning.) And D’Agonstino proves himself to be an adept storyteller, as well; “Plainclothes” is indie rock’s answer to Earl Sweatshirt’s “ePar,” and it tells its cop-killing story almost as well.

So basically, it’s ambitious, accessible indie rock. Not that special on paper, but an increasingly rare commodity in 2011.

– By Daniel Kolitz