Thursday, December 17, 2009

Cymbals Eat Guitars- Why There Are Mountains

The subject of originality is one that fascinates me. Even those things that you think of as coming out of the blue and having no none touchstones are usually just influenced by obscure things you've never heard of. Or anyway, it'll turn out to be a case of people having a similar idea but there's no provable connection between the two. In the past week I've finally gotten around to watching Slumdog Millionaire and Amelie, and while the former is essentially the same old Hollywood-style poorly written crap wrapped up in a unique setting and premise, the latter is original through and through, and has immediately become one of my favorite movies. But I bet if I did some digging, I'd hear that director/co-writer Jean-Pierre Jeunet was influenced by this or that French director or handful of films that I've never heard of.

Cymbals Eat Guitars are in the same school of indie rock as Tapes 'n Tapes, which is to say, their influences are pretty plain. Both bands manage to sound original enough that they can't be called plagiarists so much as students of a certain kind of music. The first Tapes 'n Tapes album was excellent, sure, but it clearly spent its college years in the course of study that may as well be dubbed Pixies 'n Pavement. Cymbals Eat Guitars, meanwhile, take their name from (I'm pretty sure) a Lou Reed quote about how he had drummer Maureen Tucker mostly focus on toms and the bass drum, giving the Velvet Underground's music a primitive/minimalist bent, because he felt that "cymbals eat up guitars" in the audio space of music--too much treble. However, Cymbals Eat Guitar's music sounds like the band stole the playbook of mid-to-late 90s Pacific Northwest indie rock: Modest Mouse, Built To Spill, and Pavement all come to mind when listening to Why There Are Mountains.

Whether this is a bad thing is up to the listener. I want to make clear that at no point do Cymbals Eat Guitars directly rip-off their influences. Just as Nirvana openly admitted to attempting to make good on the ideas of the Pixies and, say, Mudhoney, Cymbals Eat Guitars sound like their own band while calling to mind their influences quite readily. Personally, I think Why There Are Mountains is a good little album, for what it is, but I'm afraid that it's bound to be forgotten as time goes on unless the band really does something amazing with their next album. Too often bands like this fall prey to the same fate that befell Tapes 'n Tapes, which was to make a mediocre, experimental-in-a-bad-way sophomore release and fall into obscurity.

To put it more simply, if you're really into indie rock, particularly the Pacific Northwest brand of the aforementioned bands, you'll enjoy Why There Are Mountains but probably won't love it. This's a conditional recommendation, I admit, so take it for what it is.

Oh, and for the record, the new cover art that was added when the band finally got around to releasing it on a record label is really, really awful.

No comments: