Although many up-and-coming indie bands are racing to create no-fi epics that sound like they were recorded on Macaulay Culkin’s Talkboy, indie-rock is simultaneously regaining a sense of grandeur thought mostly shook off. Antlers are doing layered, metaphorical self-confessionals, Spencer Krug is recording albums that are indebted to David Bowie’s art-rock and glam periods, and MGMT (and to a lesser extent Amazing Baby) seek to restore glam excess to its place in the pantheon by making songs that at least wish they were epic.
But few bands kick it grander than Cymbals Eat Guitars, a Staten Island four-piece whose self-released debut, Why There Are Mountains, was picked up for wider release following a review on Pitchfork and pavement-pounding by the guys to get it in stores. There’s a reason why “mountains” is in the album title: Cymbals Eat Guitars don’t do songs that represent feelings; their widescreen songs evoke snow-capped mountains, wide, empty fields, rain pouring in a forest, and thunder clapping above volcanoes.
Opener “And the Hazy Sea…” starts with a tsunami of sound, crashing down in time for the ruminative crux of the song before exploding again with wordless and caustic vocals. “Some Trees” spazzes out much in the same way as the opener does, but it has a distinct hovering quality due to its billowing organs. “Cold Spring” almost works in reverse, with the mellower opening section of the track opening up to lightning after the three-minute mark.
For all its bluster, Why There Are Mountains works best in its quieter moments. “What Dogs See” hangs like fog over a mountain, while closer “Like Blood Does” seems on the verge of just ending at any moment due to its low-key acoustic plucking, and its on-again, off-again electricity and Nature Store percussion. The chorus for the spry album highlight “Wind Phoenix” finds lead singer Joseph D’Agostino as a faux-auctioneer, trying to pack as many multi-syllabic non-sequiters over the near-AM rock of his rhythm section. Granted, things do get acerbic near the song’s end when the good vibes seem to be too much for the band to handle before everything breaks down.
Cymbals Eat Guitars are sure to draw comparisons to the proggier aspects of Modest Mouse and the (hardly there) tough side of Built to Spill, but Cymbals are both a part of (especially on the by-the-numbers flare-up on “The Living North”) and apart from their influences. Cymbals Eat Guitars don’t get drowned in homage, however; from the first explosive note to the last, Why There Are Mountains is a routinely rewarding album, with each listen revealing great new scenery.