The guys of Cymbals Eat Guitars walked into Big Car Gallery in Indianapolis for this session early on a Saturday afternoon in late October after a late night Chicago set. Having listened to the new album, Lenses Alien, a dozen or so times over the past few months and Why There Are Mountains time and again in the past couple years, I was unsure quite how the band would come across in personal interaction. I knew little about them other than their outstanding albums – playing a strange rock and roll cocktail, simultaneously invigorating while lyrically solid, enigmatic and challenging - and reviews I’d read here and there. It was gratifying to see a quartet of hardworking young guys I could easily relate to. Running on a few hours sleep and surely worn from the road but still congenial and zealous enough, the guys hauled their gear up the old stairs and into the gallery, shaking hands, smiling and offering eye contact and invitations for coffee runs. While tuning and checking levels, they bantered with us and each other, rattling off a litany of funny asides and inside jokes, making it effortlessly clear that they are a tight-knit group with easy personalities and lacking pretense.
Lenses Alien, the brand new album, is a vehicle for the magnificent collision of every aspect Cymbals Eat Guitars’ staggering talents. On album and live, the guys arm themselves with a steely arsenal of technical skill and an acute density absent from a vast majority of the current music scene. Joseph D’Agostino is an unmistakably adroit lyricist, arguably as fine as in music today. His voice is brought to the forefront of the mix on album, putting the words right in your ears, on the surface of the crashing rhythms and swirling guitars, but the workload is unequivocally transferred to the listener. It’s an impressive move for the band to make and a daunting feat to undertake as a fan. D’Agostino’s writing is evocative and bottomless; his cavalcade of twisted imagery is like a young 21st Century point-of-view fused in the likes of Philip K. Dick and Bukowski by way of Kerouac’s muscled stream-of-consciousness. The verbal punches come as swiftly and inexplicably as some of Blonde on Blonde’s most challenging lyrics – no joke. Spin Lenses Alien a dozen times and then sit with the lyrics in hand and try to excavate the truths in the deep recesses of the words. Take, for example, “vaseline hands the door slams behind us in a flesh lined heaven” from “Rifle Eyesight”, or “snorted up an orgasm times twenty then one day you can’t turn the shower on look down all your birthmarks and scars are gone skin pink and virgin” from “Secret Family”. I, for one, have not realized but a percentage of them; though I’m thrilled at the pursuit. Coloring the air around all the imagery of Lenses Alien are tight, throbbing rhythms, knifing guitars and keyboard flourishes that bleed together like nightmarish meteorological outbursts. The songs blacken the skies and rustle the trees until the tempo swings and D’Agostino’s raw howl unleashes relentless tempests of both distortion and melody upon the listener. Cymbals Eat Guitars find savory ways to pull shocks from their sleeves without ever seeming too eager to blindfold you first. They deliver hard-earned payoffs song after song without ever relying on easy hooks or stepping remotely close to trite songwriting or any sort of irony.
Having immersed myself in the impenetratable riches of Lenses Alien, I’m obliged to support a damn fine band like Cymbals Eat Guitars, especially having discovered the players to be so immediately cordial and unpretentious. They are a quite young, unfussy band from Staten Island that at first glance seems overjoyed in their cycle of driving city to city, hauling gear, playing sets and sharing drinks. Somewhere in the midst of it all, they churn out filler-free albums of thick as oak rock n roll with intelligence and proficiency that grows warmer with every repeated listen.
Recorded and Mixed by Jeff DuPont
Filmed and Edited by Doug Fellegy
Written by Justin Wesley