by Nicholas Otte (@ottenicholas)
Yuck is a band whose name in turns defines and disguises them. At times their music has been wonderfully ugly, changing pop-rock songs to fuzzy, grime-coated anthems. At other times they employ a gentle touch and all but beg to be understood and felt on a deeper level. Both of these methods have worked for the band in the past, but the challenge has been marrying these two discordant identities. Yuck’s new album attempts to do that, and at moments succeeds. Stranger Things sees the noisy/touchy-feely London rockers pulling the moves that brought them to the ears of many, and while they are at it, not a whole lot else.
It is important to note that this is not the lineup of Yuck that caught the attention of many with 2011’s self-titled record. The veracity and youthful disregard of those first few forays has slackened, and what we are left with is a band whose earnestness disagrees with their cautiously gritty sound.
There are traces of Modest Mouse and Weezer – neither of which are by any means negative points of reference, at least not where their respective heydays are concerned. But, as recent albums from those bands have proven, the world seems hungry for something new. This should by no means be mistaken for a refusal of such tried and tested influences, but there is a difference between taking something and running with it and running around in recycled circles. There is a pervading sense of nostalgia here, but just what it is that Yuck are harkening back to is often unclear. Across the record Yuck jostles between irreverent garage-rock (”Canonball”) and nineties dream pop (“Down”), and old-fashioned Baroque pop (“Stranger Things”) referencing disparate genres from a past, making for a collection that often disagrees with itself.
However, many of these songs are very well constructed, whether they are referencing genre tropes or not. These tunes are easily latched on to; a quality that should not disqualify their validity – something being difficult by no means makes it more worthy of praise. The compositions here are mostly direct and stripped of all unnecessary fat. Yuck even spend less energy disguising their sound in effects than many of their contemporaries use, letting their tunes stand on their own two feet. While this allows them to showcase some very effective, even accomplished songwriting, there is little that could be called original. Even when songs like “Swirling” seem to make a break for new territory, they are held back by the album’s insistently fuzzy production. Yuck are trying to bring some sense of cohesion to their work, which is admirable, but sometimes a hindrance when certain songs would be better suited by production that is more in line with the emotion they attempt to purvey, which peeks its way through but never swallows the listener whole.
The cover of Stranger Things shows a cartoonish character melting into an armchair and pooling on the floor. This cover, as it turns out, is right on the money. Yuck seem to want to hold on to some yester-year slacker swagger, even when their music seems to be demanding more of them. Yuck is not necessarily stuck. There is potential here, but the band has yet to shed some of their less effective musical impulses. Here we have a band that presents perfectly adequate songs but appear uninterested in branching out from their past. No matter how well wrought Stranger Things might be, it lives in the shadow of their more urgent releases. Yuck have developed a formula, built atop formulas, and seem content in the comfort this has brought them. If comfort is all you seek, this album just might do it. But if you were hoping for something more – something stranger – you might just want to sit this one out.