For a band you haven’t heard or even heard of before now, Yuck sure sounds familiar. But even if the UK up-and-comers play to a sense of nostalgia for ’80s and ’90s indie rock they were too young to experience first-hand, they’re still in it to make some history of their own. So maybe you’ll start listening to Yuck’s self-titled debut trying to figure out where you heard that riff or those melodies before, but you’ll end up wondering how this precocious combo remade what’s old and reliable into something that seems new and vital all over again. Whether it’s Pavement’s reckless aesthetic or Yo La Tengo’s ramshackle sweetness or — especially — Dinosaur Jr.’s guitar heroics, these newcomers have pretty much cribbed at least a little from pretty much anyone who’s anyone from the indie underground over the past 25 years, though they’re clever and confident enough to do so without ever coming off as blatantly derivative of or overly reverential to their elders.
In short, Yuck goes to show that you don’t necessarily have to be all that original to create a distinctive, even unique sound when working within the indie tradition. It’s particularly appropriate, then, that the first thing you hear on the album is some soaring, echoing reverb à la Dinosaur Jr., since that’s the most obvious touchstone for Yuck: On the opening number “Get Away”, guitarists Daniel Blumberg and Max Bloom mold feedback into evocative guitar lines the way J Mascis does, except that the youngsters have more of a sweet tooth for poppy melodies. Superchunk gets the same treatment on “Holing Out”, a frenetic power-punk bash-up that might as well be an updated version of a lost seven-inch from one of those singles collections by Mac McCaughan and co. Even more thrilling is how Yuck finds the missing link between Sonic Youth and Yo La Tengo on “Operation”, which compresses art-noise epic “Teenage Riot” into a bristling pop tune along the lines of “Cherry Chapstick” or “Sugarcube”.
Lest Yuck begins to seem like one heck of an indie iTunes playlist, but little more, the album is really something that’s greater than the sum of its parts, thanks to the band’s instincts and intuition. “Sunday” captures the wide-eyed wonder of Galaxie 500 by shearing away the white noise, then crossing it with the good-natured twang of latter-day Teenage Fanclub to create a vibe that’s convincingly earnest, but also musically inventive beyond Yuck’s years. But the best case to be made for Yuck’s ability to take what’s been done over and over again and give it new life is the standout single “Georgia”, which is chock full of alt-rock’s best ideas, just made even better when recombined in novel and imaginative ways. Kinda doing for “Friday I’m in Love” what Dinosaur Jr.’s cover of “Just Like Heaven” did to that Cure classic, Yuck lends some grungy oomph to new-wave’s pop dramatics. And that’s not even mentioning the sweet, cooing his-‘n’-hers harmonizing between Daniel and Ilana Blumberg that could give contemporaries the Pains of Being Pure at Heart a run for their money in expressing puppy-love anticipation.
So yeah, there are plenty of signposts in any given Yuck tune for indie trainspotters to immediately find a way in via their favorite golden oldie, but these songs are more than just rote exercises or trips down memory lane — in this case, there’s something to be said for a band that’s not old enough to remember the good ol’ days to be reviving the gold soundz of college rock. For instance, Wowee Zowee-era Pavement might be a tangential point of reference for the coda on “Rubber”, but really it’s a launching pad for Yuck’s own stab at experimentation, showing that this group of barely twentysomethings is ambitious enough to try out its own take on po-mo noodling. Better yet are the more intimate moments when there’s no space for influences to get between Yuck and the listener, especially the heart-tugging charmer “Shook Down”. When Daniel Blumberg sings immediate, to-the-point sentiments like “The time it takes for you / Is the time it takes for me” to stripped-down acoustic strumming on “Shook Down”, it’s hard to tell what the difference is between innocence and experience.
That’s not to say Yuck doesn’t still have some room to grow to really come into its own. There are those moments when they pretty much get by on pure exuberance alone, like on “The Wall”, where they exude enough appealing Breeders-like energy to almost mask the throwaway lyrics, repeating “Trying to make it through the wall / You can see me if you’re tall” aimlessly. And whether Yuck’s coming down from the sugary pop highs or the hard-rocking adrenaline wears off over the time, the album runs out of steam towards the end with a few too many breaks in the action. Still, even with the growing pains, Yuck has learned well from the best and it probably won’t be long before this group starts to teach some lessons of its own.