Cymbals Eat Guitars // LOSE
by Kate Leib on September 9, 2014
Posted in: Album Review, Music, Rock
You’re driving on the densest highway system in the most densely populated state, passing more diners, shopping malls, and toxic waste dumps than than anywhere else in the country. You’re on your way to ride the tallest Roller Coaster in the world with your best friends in a town named after the biggest slaveowner in the Southwestern United States so you can momentarily feel weightless and alive.
Whether or not you’ve been to Six Flags Great Adventure in Jackson, New Jersey, you can probably imagine what it’s like to feel your stomach lurch at the top of Kingda Ka’s undeniably phallic apex. Such is the ultra-specific scene into which one finds themselves dropped on the opening track of Cymbals Eat Guitars’ third studio album, LOSE. A poetic second person narrative, “Jackson” engages the listener from very beginning and sets the tone for the rest of the record, beginning with a full minute of classic clashing and shredding of–you guessed it–cymbals and guitars. “You’re taking / two Klonopin” frontman Joseph D’Agostino sings in a voice ridden with gravel and angst, breaking the instrumental build up and carrying the weight of the story he’s about to unleash.
LOSE comes three years after Cymbals Eat Guitars’ dark and delightfully noisy sophomore album Lenses Alien, five years after their psychedelic thrasher debut, Why There Are Mountains, and seven years after the sudden death of D’Agostino’s highschool friend and one time bandmate Ben High. As the album’s title entails, much of the material on LOSE deals with D’Agostino’s anxious anticipation of death and the immediate and crushing loss he experienced at a young age when his friend passed away. Over the course of the album, D’Agostino drops the first names of High and other friends as well as the names of roads, towns, and other New Jersey centric locations, and the result is an intimate snapshot of stifled suburban youth. Aware that the contents of LOSE are deeply personal and could be potentially alienating, D’Agostino half apologizes on “Lifenet” “I’m sorry / You don’t know these people so / What could this mean to you?” all the while brimming with existential angst that would do fellow New Jersey band, Titus Andronicus, proud, “They’re history / Well this won’t make a difference / There’s radiation living for a million years” It’s in this self-referential and conversational style that LOSE can simultaneously serve as D’Agostino’s own emotional outlet while capturing the universal experience of loss and how it continues to permeate over the long-term for himself and others in beautifully articulated form. Whether it’s the loss of your childhood friend, your dog, your youth, your innocence, your edge, your potential, your memory, your seratonin, your strength, your intimate relationships, or your identity all together, Cymbals Eat Guitars are right there with you.
Beyond the personal yet relatable thematic narrative of LOSE, the tension between the poignant lyrics and rich layers of instrumentation is expertly executed and balanced. Though there are far less raw licks and ear splitting vocals on this album than I would have initially hoped or expected from Cymbals Eat Guitars, their short sing-shout phrases like “SPINES…SHOOK”, “DELIRIOUS…KISS”, and “…COME THE FUCK ON” tenderly punched over tight pop structures heard on songs like “Jackson” and other contrasted soft moments like the album closing, quintessentially suburban line “But they knew my game / Every rich kid’s basement smells the same” on “2 Hip Soul” prove to be just as satisfying if not more meaningful than the ramshackle barrage of instrumentation and esoteric yelps heard on their past albums. D’Agostino’s hissing staccato delivery is equally reminiscent of distinctive and influential 90s indie rock vocalists Stephen Malkmus, Doug Martsch and Eric Bachmann.
If riffs could kill, Cymbals Eat Guitars might as well be the Tony Soprano of contemporary emo-tinged Indie Rock. Their shimmering guitar chords will swirl around you and envelope your head like the (ehem) cords on the album’s cover. You’ll find yourself hurtling toward the ground with your stomach pressed against your heart while you consider your own mortality as well as the mythological immortality of the inbred degenerates and devilish creatures rumored to lurk in the Pine Barrens stretching far below. And all you’ll be able to do is scream into the wind that you don’t wanna die, get in line, do it again, and then listen to LOSE all the way home.
BEST TRACKS: 1, 2, 5, 4, 3, 6, 9, 7, 8 (shit that’s all of them)
RIYL: New Jersey Core, New Jersey Lore, Titus Andronicus, The Wrens, Sunny Day Real Estate, Archers of Loaf, Pavement, Built to Spill, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, Cloud Nothings
LOSE is out Aug 25 on Barsuk/Tough Love
Kate Leib is WRMC’s creative director and social media manager. Unsurprisingly, she hails from New Jersey and co-hosts a Built to Spill inspired show called “Perfect From Then On” Thursday nights, 8-10 on WRMC.