Review: Cymbals Eat Guitars – LOSE

There were several new albums released last week that I had been waiting to grab for months, so it should come as no surprise that this week I’m recommending something from that lineup.  However, in the days prior to last Tuesday, my preliminary research (listening to a whole bunch of old albums/reading the occasional interview) was focused on a different new release in anticipation of a potential future review, an album different than the one mentioned in the above title; considering the other band’s track record, it was a safe assumption that it would have been the “album of the week”.  But it’s the newest release from Cymbals Eat Guitars that has pushed its way into heavy rotation in my music library, and it’s LOSE that is currently climbing up my ever-shifting list of top albums of the year.

LOSE stands out as a guitar-focused, indie rock album at a time when the approach seems almost anachronistic.  Musically it often works as a throwback to a more refined version of emo from early in the last decade (especially in regards to the vocals, which can often be a bit abrasive when it comes to hitting certain notes), though I hesitate to use the term because of its negative connotations these days.  Though the album’s lyrical inspiration was the loss of a close childhood friend during the early years of the band, it’s a mature response that never comes off as pouty or whiny, a characteristic that puts the group above many of the more famous emo acts.

LOSE kicks things off with the stellar “Jackson”, a contender for album opener of the year along with Lost In The Dream‘s “Under the Pressure” and Turn Blue‘s “The Weight of Love”.  “Jackson” is a song that doesn’t telegraph its intentions from the outset, declaring to the listener that “this is going to be one of those epic songs, and you’ll know it from the second we start playing”*; instead, it begins gradually, adding layers of instruments and emotion over the course of its running time.  The build is so natural that it comes as a complete surprise that you start air-drumming and singing along at the top of your longs 3/4 of the way through the song.  By the end though, when reflecting on what you just heard, you can say “oh, I see how they got there.”

*Not that this is necessarily a bad thing, because I love several “epic” songs whose scope is obvious from the outset, but I think it’s more difficult to successfully accomplish the feat in this manner

The album keeps the momentum going with the next two tracks, “Warning” and “XR”.  The former offers an intriguing variation of a traditional punk/emo motif, riding an uptempo riff with a slight tweak in the connecting notes between the chords that is jarring to hear on first listen, but makes sense in context.  “XR” is a harmonica-driven blast of whip-fast earnest punk rock, that makes it seem like the band had been listening to a lot of The Monitor by Titus Andronicus, without actually ripping them off.

The other major highlight of the album is “Laramie”, a big sweeping ballad that pushes and pulls the listener with an abrupt back-and-forth start-stop rhythm, that then switches gears and shifts into a rowdy driving rocker halfway through.  It’s not style-mixing for the sake of it, however; the combination feels organic in the band’s hands.  LOSE ends with “2 Hip Soul”, which follows a similar template, but when it shifts it calls back to the opener “Jackson”, eventually devolving back into the solo piano that began that song, in effect making the album an infinite loop.

LOSE is an incredible accomplishment for Cymbals Eat Guitars, who in some sense lost their way a bit with Lenses Alien after their catchy debut Why There Are Mountains.  However, when looking back it’s easy to see that Lenses Alien was a necessary step in their development, as the band developed their chops a bit more and experimented with different ideas, but simply failing to recall their knack for the memorable melodies that marked their debut.  LOSE combines the best of their previous work, and even then the sum is greater than its parts.

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