Self-released, self-promoted indie rock success stories are far more common in 2009 than they were back at the onset of the decade. People were still getting a handle on downloading music, major labels still had the luxury of signing bands like Wheatus. And the idea of a group like Clap Your Hands Say Yeah or Tapes `n’ Tapes coming out of nowhere and taking the blog community (which had yet to flourish) by storm was a foreign one, even a non-starter. But here we are, in the post-Arcade Fire/ Clap Your Hands/ Voxtrot/ Black Kids clusterfuck, and unsigned bands have already basically dominated indie rock playlists this year. Before being re-released by Frenchkiss, The Antlers unleashed their massive Hospice, and likewise, The Rural Alberta Advantage found their 2008 release Hometowns reaching a wider audience through Saddle Creek. Later this month, Cymbals Eat Guitars will find their debut Why There Are Mountains released on Sister’s Den Records, but for now, it’s yet another victory for D.I.Y. indie rockers.
Based out of Staten Island, N.Y., Cymbals Eat Guitars are indie rock, the kind that any red-blooded slacker with a Dinosaur Jr. shirt that dates back to 1992 would approve. And yet it’s also an emotive, soaring rush of an album, crafted with all the earnestness and atmosphere of more contemporary bands like Arcade Fire or The Antlers. Essentially, this is what indie rock bands in 2009 should aim to sound like, should they still have affection for hooks and perfect imperfections. The first track, “And the Hazy Sea,” is, on its own, one of the greatest things to emerge this year. It’s an enormous, six-minute explosion of melody and sonic expansiveness, with horns blaring, distorted guitars crashing, and frontman Joseph D’Agostino shredding his vocals. It’s hard not to want to throw up a fist during its furious progression. “Some Trees” is far shorter, more jangly, and breezy at that, while “Indiana” transforms from nebulous ambience to a brassy, soulful pop gem. “Cold Spring,” however, throws down like vintage Modest Mouse, with D’Agostino barking like a young Isaac Brock halfway through, centerpiece “Share” builds slowly and beautifully from fuzz to giant climax, while “Wind Phoenix” is simply a magnificent rock song.
There’s something classic about Cymbals Eat Guitars. Unlike the countless blog rockers who borrow the sloppiness or jauntiness of vintage Pavement or Modest Mouse, CEG actually share those bands’ best elements, namely their sense of writing impeccable songs with awe-inspiring melodies. Why There Are Mountains is as strong a debut as you’ll hear in 2009.
MP3: “And the Hazy Sea”
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.