Cymbals Eat Guitars
Cymbals Eat Guitars released their debut album Why There Are Mountains in 2009, receiving a response that far exceeded the band’s expectations. Two years have gone by since that early hype cycle began, and a lot has changed. Half of the musicians that played on Why There Are Mountains came and went before major touring began, replaced by Brian Hamilton on keys and Matthew Whipple on bass. Hamilton and Whipple joined singer/songwriter/guitarist Joseph D’Agostino and drummer Matt Miller to take the show on the road, finally solidifying the lineup. An official release of Why There Are Mountains on the band’s own imprint, extensive US touring with the likes of Bear in Heaven, Los Campesinos!, and The Thermals; European dates with The Flaming Lips and The Hold Steady; and festival performances including Lollapalooza and Glastonbury kept the band quite busy. All the while, they were using whatever free time was afforded to them to write songs for a planned follow-up.
In early 2011, the band settled down in Whipple’s basement in New Jersey to finish writing that follow-up. Rehearsing and recording demos in a suburban home allowed for a lot of freedom the band hadn’t enjoyed in the past. Shared Brooklyn rehearsal spaces had always meant long commutes, scheduling difficulties, parking tickets. Decamping to the suburbs meant fewer distractions and more time to explore the outer reaches of song structure and melody, and to edit, reign in, and refine those same elements. That refinement and clarity of purpose came in no small part with the guidance of producer John Agnello, and together they set out to craft an album that re-contextualized the band’s favored sounds and highlighted underexplored strengths.
Lenses Alien, the result of these collaborative explorations, is a stunning example of a band growing into itself – learning to collaborate, becoming more confident. Why There Are Mountains was a record that Joseph D’Agostino made largely on his own, with help from Matt Miller and some other friends and acquaintances that came and went. Lenses Alien is a record that Joseph D’Agostino, Brian Hamilton, Matt Miller, and Matthew Whipple made together, as a band.
At its core, Lenses Alien is a marriage of classic pop forms and ambient haze that makes for a stark, dusky psychedelia. D’Agostino’s vocals, now with support from Hamilton and Whipple, sit daringly at the forefront, and his lyrics are dark, strange, and affecting as ever. Miller and Whipple move the songs as a singular, powerful unit while ornate guitars and Hamilton’s celestial organ and chiming pianos whirl across the sonic landscape. Songs like ‘Definite Darkness’ and ‘Keep Me Waiting’ move with the frenetic urgency of romance that seemingly begins and ends all at once, and ‘Secret Family’ and ‘Wavelengths’ combine Motown-esque turns with impressionistic visions of lost youth and the struggle to retain it. A relentlessly complex listen, Lenses Alien strikes a balance between the archaic and the inviting and is as much a document of doubts and contradictions as of irreverent joy. It’s a varied collection of songs that feels handmade – built from the ground up – and it’s precisely the album Cymbals Eat Guitars was built to make.