Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Yuck (2011)

(Fat Possum)


Scruffy UK noise rockers Yuck present the same conflict to Gen Y music fans as the Pains of Being Pure at Heart, a slightly older band that nevertheless pores over the same list of influences, skewed a few years later -- do children of the '90s really want to live through their adolescence again? Put their debut on and you are bombarded instantly with "Get Away," a song so determined to send shockwaves of memory back to modern rock radio circa 1996 it nearly seems like a stunt. There it all is, the overdriven guitars and the sense of vague, apathetic melancholy aimed at seemingly nothing. But take a look at photos of the band and, as with last year's shocking success story Surfer Blood, it becomes apparent that these are kids, that for them this radio fridge buzz was always a nostalgia trip with bracing and revelatory style, the way the OMD and Depeche Mode records aped by Cut Copy are to me. Guitar bands aren't generational; Yuck's fellow countrymen Male Bonding and Florida's Surfer Blood prove the eternal grace of loud, melodic rock & roll. But you won't necessarily fall in love with Yuck if you fell in love with Astro Coast and Nothing Hurts. A better reference point for Yuck is the Smith Westerns; they amount to a depressed teenage version of the same pop-resurrection concept.

But certainly Yuck tackles this from a more basic framework, and they are a strong outfit -- bass player Mariko Doi overcomes the hip paranoia with sliding, persuasive rhythm, and the twin guitars of Daniel Blumberg and Max Bloom sometimes conjure up more elegance than any of the songs they likely wish they'd written. What will keep you coming back to them is the sheer charm of their sound, less than the material they have written. The killer strum of "Shook Down" takes me right the hell back to ninth grade, to those unbearably melancholy-over-jack-shit spring nights with Gin Blossoms' "Found Out About You" springing up from the headphones. "Suck" boasts a slender, sad hook that dirties up R.E.M.'s Out of Time. And most impressively, "Stutter" is a dead ringer for Luna or, more likely, Yo La Tengo, replete with Ira Kaplan-styled melodic flourishes and shapeless stabs of feedback, and the sweetly lilting male-female duet vocals.

Yo La Tengo was never exactly a radio hitmaker, but that Yuck lumps them in with Soundgarden is appropriate in a sense. Back when I was growing up, Pavement, one of those bands I wasn't cool enough to listen to but wished I was, slammed the Smashing Pumpkins, who were then gods to me, in a song of theirs ("Range Life"). Billy Corgan of the Pumpkins shot back with all manner of batshit threats and rants, and as of 2010 he still hasn't really calmed down about it. But Pavement and the Pumpkins exist as a single entity in Yuck's music, revealing the idiocy of such feuds -- "The Wall" fuses the annoying distorted wailing of Corgan (in the manner of "Zero") with the annoying but awesome distorted guitars and melodies of Pavement ("Conduit for Sale!") to create one big annoying distorted mess. Meanwhile, everyone's hearing Oscar-nominated luminary Elliott Smith in "Suicide Policeman," but I can't help catching its melodic tie to the wondrous, unjustly forgotten Beulah -- and somehow it never occurred to me that Smith and Beulah might have remotely the same ideas about rock music until Yuck threw them together.

The single "Holing Out," track four, marks the first point on Yuck when I start to get sleepy. Unfortunately, that's a mere prelude -- the entire last half of the LP consists of murk that the songs can seldom rise above. The point by then has already been made before you can even start tracking down all the reviews that called the Pumpkins themselves so derivative they'd never have an impact. Yeah, nostalgia rush, check, and some pain and depression, but it's also ultimately background music -- ideal for video games or reading the news -- and that's before it even reaches the endless grunge plod that closes it out. Yuck indeed... but keep an eye on this group just in case they try anything funny next time. Maybe we'll get an unadorned Nothing Hurts out of them yet.

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