I love the 1990s. As a “child of the Nineties”, I have attached a great deal of nostalgia to the music of that era, the same kind of nostalgia that is embedded in nearly every scene of The Wonder Years.
If you’re as in love with bands who have the “90s sound” as I am, then you’ll probably dig the band Yuck. Yes, that name rocks, but Yuck is much more than just a cool band name. They’re basically the musical equivalent of The Wonder Years, due to the nostalgic bliss that soaks every song.
With the release of their self-titled debut album last month on Fat Possum Records, Yuck have proved that it is possible to sound “fresh” and “throwback” simultaneously.
Let’s get the obvious comparisons out of the way: Yuck’s buzzy, reverbed guitar and lazy vocals give them a style not unlike Dinosaur Jr and Sonic Youth, to name a couple hugely influential late 1980s/early 1990s indie bands, but there’s also a fresh, youthful vigor that make the songs seem both effortless and meticulously planned out.
This is best exemplified in album opener Get Away, a song driven by a loopy guitar riff and a summery, happy rhythm that reminded me of Smashing Pumpkins’ album Siamese Dream. The tambourine that bangs around during the repeated chorus only adds to the good vibe.
Lead vocalist Daniel Blumberg’s voice is usually layered beneath guitar fuzz and echo effects, but is high enough in the mix to accentuate the noise more than adequately. The Wall continues the buzzy reverb fun from Get Away, and that trend continues throughout the record.
Shook Down, with its strummed intro and slower pace could have fit perfectly over an important prom scene in My So-Called Life or some other such 90s TV drama. If it’s been a week/ then it’s been too long/There are several things/ that I’ve been doing wrong lament Blumberg and backup vocalist Illana Blumberg over an easygoing beat. It’s on songs like this that the female Blumberg’s voice is a welcomed addition. Her voice provides a great harmony to Daniel’s vocals, and it’s at its best on Shook Down.
Holing Out is a more upbeat tune with an aggressive (by Yuck standards) lead guitar riff and some chunky bass work by Mariko Doi.
Suicide Policeman slows things down a bit, before Georgia brings back the “driving down the freeway with the windows open” feeling. Illana’s vocals are matched up with Daniel’s for this one, and they again provide a great duality.
A more deliberate, slowed-down guitar strum leads the way on Suck, and calls to mind the kind of guitar play that James Iha used in so many early Smashing Pumpkins songs. After dinner I was burning with desire/ You can never burn out/ My love for you sings Daniel Blumberg on this one, a slow burner that slowly builds and climbs back down delicately. The lyrics fit the gentle atmospherics of the song, and make it one of the brightest moments on the album, placed perfectly right in the middle of things.
I’ll continue calling out specific songs, but it’s important to realize that this is truly an album: the songs flow seamlessly into each other, each with its own sound and catchiness.
Jonny Rogoff’s drums are simple and subdued, and fit well with the whimsical melancholy that is prevalent on every track.
Guitarist Max Bloom sings lead vocals on Operation, which is reminiscent of Silversun Pickups, themselves a band that bursting with 90s inspiration. Operation’s lead guitar riff is as memorable as the one in Get Away, providing a driving melody that seems both familiar and fresh, which are qualities of the album as a whole.
Sunday, which sounds like a hybrid between the Pixies and the Vaselines, is another notable track. At times I would call Sunday my favorite song on the record, but this is an album that doesn’t need “favorite songs” to be great.
Rose Gives A Lilly and Rubber close out the album, the former a jammy, ethereal dreamscape and Rubber a heavily-distorted seven-minute dirge that allows the band to really explore their inner My Bloody Valentine. Walls of guitars and feedback merge into a cacophony of mid-tempo sludge toward the end, fading out slowly in rousing fashion.
Reading about this album and its “1990s-ness” attracted me to it, but I was cautious. I had already read glowing reviews on various hipster websites, and wary that this would be another Surfer Blood/Best Coast fiasco of trite, overhyped blandness, I didn’t get my hopes up.
Thankfully, Yuck obliterated any chance of eliciting a negative reaction from me. Instead, their delicate blend of the best aspects of early to mid-1990s alternative/indie rock and their own unique musical idiosyncrasies impressed me greatly.
I know we’re only a few months in, but it’d be hard for this album to not end up on my Best of 2011 list at the end of the year.
At the very least, Yuck are the frontrunners for Best New 1990s Throwback Indie Band.