Considering the reverence with which everyone speaks about the 90s, it should come as little surprise that they’re experiencing a bit of a revival right now. Of course these various decade genre revivals are coming quicker than ever these days as more acts are paying close homage to their influences rather than adventuring out of the box a bit more and attempting something new. The 80s sprung back to life courtesy of The Killers and the host of other bands that rode the same wave to success. There hasn’t really been a singular trigger for this “return to the 90s” movement, but a whole bunch of reunions probably has something to do with it, as much if not more than 90s-leaning bands like Japandroids, Surfer Blood, The Pains of Being Pure at Heart and No Age have these last couple years. At the very least, those of us that lived through the 90s and loved the music from it are now given a chance to in some senses re-live a lot of those things once again from an older and wiser viewpoint. Also, those significantly younger kids born in the 90s now have a good introduction to an era that they probably never knew in infancy. So long as we’re giving the 90s a second time over though, let’s try to be just a little more critical and careful about what bands thrive and which ones can go ignored. By now most of us should know better, right? It is with that mindset you’re invited to have a glance at the world of Yuck. Here’s a group of young guys from the UK that have clearly obsessed over guitar squalor and art-pop of the 90s and their self-titled debut album not only proves this but on that same token smartly elevates them to nearly the level of the greats they’ve learned so much from.
From the very first notes of energetic album opener “Get Away”, Yuck have instantly transported you back to a time when the fuzzed-out electric guitar was king. There’s a heavy crunch of a melody that envelops you as singer/guitarist Daniel Blumberg’s vocals come filtered through a layer of grittiness and crackle that has an almost Malkmus-esque Pavement feel. Additionally, there’s a squiggly, high-pitched guitar solo that emerges above the fray a number of times on the track that’s eerily reminiscent of J. Mascis and Dinosaur Jr. Not a lot of bands can pull that off convincingly, but Yuck do it not only on “Get Away”, but also on “Holing Out” and “Operation” as well without even blinking. Distortion pedals take over in full on “The Wall”, a pretty jangly number that’s quite catchy with a Guided By Voices/Pavement vibe to it. The vocals are so buried and undercut that at times the guitars just completely overtake everything standing in their way, much like the proverbial “wall” in the song’s title and lyrics. Acoustic guitars, crisp vocals and harmonies on “Shook Down” do a lot to change the vibe of the record and display some sonic diversity from Yuck in the early goings. It’s one of those sad-sack teenage ballads with just a hint of pep in its step despite the yearning aspects. It’s also a nice change of pace between the loud (but fun) guitar sandwich of “The Wall” and “Holing Out”. Teenage Fanclub meets Elliott Smith courtesy of the acoustic “Suicide Policeman”, just as an almost sunny melody complete with harmonies, xylophones and horns meets some not entirely upbeat lyrics. Still, the track is one of a handful of exceptional standouts that also includes the song that follows it, the classic Yo La Tengo-baiting “Georgia”. The male-female harmonies are used exceptionally well next to the energetic, distorted electric guitars and a stronger-than-usual rhythm section that really carries the track. For a song like “Stutter”, you get the impression you’ve heard a number of ballads just like it before from a number of different bands in a number of different places, but can’t ever quite put your finger on just when or where. That’s actually a big part of Yuck’s charm, in that they’re able to bring a whole lot of fond memories to mind but never so explicitly that you feel like they’re ripping somebody off. It’s just original and dynamic enough to work in their favor. There’s something R.E.M.-ish about “SUnday”, and most likely it’s the way the guitars function in the song because it’s definitely not the vocals. Either way, the song is just another one of the many late album delights hiding out where you least expect them. Just before closing things out, Yuck throws an instrumental our way courtesy of “Rose Gives A Lilly”. It does what any lovely post-rock inspired instrumental should do, which is hold our attention for the duration. Things move organically then into the 7+ minute post-rock/shoegaze finale of “Rubber”. The song trudges along in slow-burn fashion, like watching a house engulfed in flames via slow motion. There’s a dark and sinister quality to the sheer squalls of noise that wash over you time and time again, but it’s immensely beautiful too. If you’ve not yet seen the music video for “Rubber”, which is “dog-gone” interesting, it brings a new-found appreciation to oddities that you can’t erase from your head but kind of don’t want to.
A big part of what makes Yuck so interesting and impressive is the variety of sounds that they explore on their debut. Sure, every song is 90s-centric in one way or another, but other than that it’s a small challenge to box them in a sonic corner. One minute they’re doing a high energy fuzzed out rock song, the next an acoustic-driven ballad and the next a gob smacking post-rock jam. None of it is particularly upbeat or happy, but when you really think about it, the 90s weren’t either. The grunge movement, among other things, was born out of frustration with growing up. Hell yes it’s tough to be a teenager today, because until they can create a pill that gets all those crazy mood swings and relationship difficulties under control, it’s going to remain tough. Yuck may not have the grunge sound, but a lot of their songs do focus on breakups and other adulthood struggles. Just barely out of their teens themselves, a lot of what’s on this self-titled album may be drawn from autobiographical experiences. The only real problem with the lyrics are that there’s the occasional clunker in there that just doesn’t quite work despite their best efforts. Those moments are few and far between though, and instrumentally things are so strong and sharp that the words matter just a little bit less. Of the many artists reaching back to the 90s for inspiration, Yuck turn out to be among the strongest thanks to those seriously great musical chops. At the end of last year, a number of publications named Yuck among the crop of fresh new artists to watch for in 2011. The good news is that they were right, and the band’s debut record is one of the stronger things released in these first couple months of the new year. Whether it can sustain such momentum and stick with people all the way through the best of’s in December, we’ll just have to play a game of wait and see on that.
Click past the jump to see the music video for “Rubber” (NSFW)