There are moments of genuine, ecstatic release here.
Rob Webb 2009-10-09
During his time with The Velvet Underground, Lou Reed often espoused the theory that “cymbals eat guitars” during mixing - hence that band's sparing use of percussion on their recordings. And thus, some years later, that sentiment provided another New York quartet (comprising old school-friends Joseph D'Agostino, Matthew Miller, Neil Berenholz and Brian Hamilton) with a name.
Cymbals Eat Guitars, though, draw more influence from American bands of the 90s (principally Dinosaur Jr's searing guitars and Pavement's dynamics) and 00s (Deerhunter, Modest Mouse) than the swinging 60s. That they never fall short of any of these lofty references is testament to the strength of Why There Are Mountains, an initially self-released debut that's now been given full UK distribution by Memphis Industries.
Those influences notwithstanding, distortion is just one element of the band's sound. Sensitive use of piano, strings and horns adds a depth and variety to the songs – it's no surprise to learn songwriter D'Agostino is a big fan of Canadian ensemble Arcade Fire – but it's not only their ability to mix up the loud with the quiet that elevates them above many of their similarly-minded peers. Rather, it's the way their songs evolve and mutate in a natural, fluid fashion, the distinction between such passages subtle and effortless.
That said, there are moments of genuine, ecstatic release here. Expansive opener And the Hazy Sea reaches some particularly noisy peaks, while Some Trees (Merritt Moon) takes the quiet-loud-LOUD route over the course of its energetic two-minute tenure. The closest they get to anything approaching generic college-rock is early composition Living North – paradoxically, though, the record's simplest moment is also one of its most gratifying.
In a year of auspicious debuts from much-vaunted American acts like Girls, Japandroids and Wavves, Why There Are Mountains sounds more like a slow-burning statement of intent than an immediate splash; the work of a young band happy to take their time to produce something special rather than capitalise on temporary acclaim. It's an approach that'll serve them well, and one that suggests album number two could be something very special indeed.