I can remember hearing “…And The Hazy Sea” for the first time back in 2009 and being completely floored. Cymbals Eat Guitars had created this musical world that encapsulated all those wonderful elements that made the early 90s indie rock movement so magical. Bombastic guitars, quiet moments, tinkling keyboards, wobbly vocals that go from fragile to explosive at the drop of a hat; these are the things that lived within that six-minute introduction to the 4-piece New Jersey crew known as Cymbals Eat Guitars. Fronted by guitarist and lead vocalist Joseph D’Agostino, CEG wore their influences on their raggedy shirtsleeves, but never seemed to content to be just a Pavement cover band. For being a 20-year old, he had a ton of heart and knew how to build an epic tune around his strengths. From that point on, the band would lose members and rebuild with others through the course of two more albums, but the constant was always D’Agostino. 2011s Lenses Alien felt more thought out and concise(albeit a bit cold at times), while 2014s LOSE saw a band shifting to include some brighter inspirations to give the album a poppier feel. It was an album that had it been released in the 90s would’ve seen at least a couple charting tracks, but since we live in the times we do LOSE was just another great album that would sit in obscurity and never get the populist attention it so deserved.
Joseph D’Agostino and Cymbals Eat Guitars have returned with their most pared down, pop-centric, and engaging album yet called Pretty Years. Produced by John Congleton, the album feels vibrant, present, and in-the-moment. It pushes air through the speakers into your ears with force and conviction. It’s not a heavy trip, but it makes good use of every last second of its run time.
“Finally” bursts out of the gate with all the conviction of a kid determined to take over the world with nothing more than his will and pounding heart. D’Agostino sounds like a guy who has found that balance between hazy, stoned digressions and concise pop songcraft. “Have A Heart” flutters by like a warm summer day. It’s a shot of jangly pop guitar that begs for rolled down windows as you sing along to “I’m so out of sync/you’re so out of sync with me” as the guy in the car next to you stares like you’re insane. “Wish” makes me think of the Boss. Electric piano, saxophone, and super tight rhythm section brings to mind New Jersey turnpikes and stadium singalongs. It’s a total rock and soul jam. Vocally though, D’Agostino seems to be channeling This Year’s Model-era Costello which seems to fit perfectly here. Then we come to “Close”, which is this alien creature of a song. It seems to have come from out of the ether. It’s like The Motels, The Feelies, and ancient Yo La Tengo intertwined with something not of this earth. It’s an incredible song and one that haunts my ears long after its done. “Dancing Days” is haunting and epic in its 5-minute runtime. Cymbals Eat Guitars have mastered the epic track to the point where it no longer needs to be 6 or 7 minutes long. The guitars are bright and ethereal, with some stomp box effects that turn their Jazzmasters into science fiction projects. “4th Of July, Philadelphia(Sandy)” crackles and distorts like a soul on the verge of explosion. This sounds like old Cymbals Eat Guitars jamming with new Cymbals Eat Guitars. It’s a buzzing, kinetic track. “Beam” is a shot of punk rock spittle. Everything feels like its in the red, needle bobbing far to the right. It’s explosive and ready to take you out back to go a couple of rounds. “Mallwalking” is a heavy track. D’Agostino sings “Back in ’99/After Columbine/I had the strangest dream/Liquid angels swam thru the halls of/Waretown Elementary”. It’s a song about reflection and sad reminiscing, another New Jersey attribute(see Springsteen, Real Estate, Titus Andronicus.) “Well” and “Shrine” continue this incredible streak, with the former feeling like a lost Hooters track that was covered by Straitjacket Fits, while the latter dissipates into a spectral ball of light, courtesy of guitars, reverb, and more reverb.
Pretty Years is the culmination of years worth of writing, honing, and D’Agostino and crew figuring out who the hell they are. They’ve figured it out, as Pretty Years proves that beautifully.