The first thing indie-rock fans might notice about Lenses Alien is how closely its title resembles the name of Guided By Voices’ 1995 lo-fi touchstone Alien Lanes. For Cymbals Eat Guitars, that choice is a cheeky way of acknowledging press notices lumping them in with an ongoing 1990s revival. But it’s also a red herring.
Why There Are Mountains, the New York/New Jersey-born quartet’s self-released debut, careened impressively through jury-rigged rhythm sections, ringing guitars and the same strain of awkwardly-soaring vocals made familiar by Built to Spill, Modest Mouse, or even Pavement. Lenses Alien, the band’s second album and first for Barsuk, is at once more grandiose and more focused, and it draws on a different side of the ’90s. Despite a confrontational eight-and-a-half-minute opener, the songs here are mostly shorter than on the debut, but they now lean toward the intricate guitars, textured feedback washes, and juddering structural shifts of Sunny Day Real Estate, Shudder to Think, or Jawbox — worthy reference points that other ’90s revivals have mostly overlooked.
Singing guitarist Joseph D’Agostino’s emotional vocals have improved, as have his cosmically ambitious lyrics, which consider slain state troopers and stoic fathers and “dirty hypodermic needles between the seat cushions in the movie theater.” Twinkling keyboards from Brian Hamilton and melodic, lurching bass from Matt Whipple — both new members — mesh with Matt Miller’s cascading drums. Gone, meanwhile, are bouncy, horn-backed songs like debut standout “Wind Phoenix,” though advance track “Another Tunguska” does borrow the head-nodding groove of Fleetwood Mac’s “Dreams.” Instead, overseen by producer John Agnello (Sonic Youth, the Breeders), Cymbals Eat Guitars have made a wonderfully expansive indie-rock album, equal parts contemplative and cacophonous, and ready to stand beside its elders.