The genre revivalists return to familiar territory, but a more adventurous spirit would have been welcome.
Yuck don’t get enough credit for trying. Sure, genre revival isn’t the noblest of artistic pursuits, but their self-titled debut album came from such a clear place of love and appreciation for the music it was imitating that it was difficult not to go along for the ride. That debut, however, has become something of an albatross for the band, an ideal that, in the eyes of some, they have yet to equal. So, after trying very hard not to sound like themselves on the underrated Glow & Behold, it’s not that surprising that Yuck would return to more familiar territory with Stranger Things. It’s an album based in familiarity, which ends up being both a good and a bad thing.
Some would argue that Yuck haven’t quite moved on from the departure of Daniel Blumberg, who quit after that first album. But hat’s too reductive; Max Bloom has proven to be quite capable at writing the same sort of songs that Blumberg turned out in 2011, and he has handled himself quite well on vocals. If there has been a change since that debut album came out, it has come about as a result of age and experience. Thus, Stranger Things seems utterly baffling on the surface. When the fuzzy guitar and distorted vocals that introduce “Hold Me Closer” come into your earphones, it’s hard not to feel a bit disappointed. That feeling of empty familiarity lingers as each song comes and goes, though, and one gets the sense that Yuck may have tripped up by trying to revisit their own glory days as well as those of their heroes.
Having said that, it’s undeniable that Yuck are very, very good at re-interpreting this era of fractured indie rock, and in that regard, Stranger Things is a success. When their poppier side shines through, as it does on the one-two power-pop punch of “Only Silence” and “Stranger Things”, Bloom’s talent for writing sweet, catchy melodies becomes clear. Indeed, Stranger Things’ sweeter moments work far better than its attempts to rock, most notably “As I Walk Away”, Mariko Doi’s lone vocal turn and one of the band’s finest songs overall. With these exquisite melodic delights, it’s hard to get excited about fuzzed-out rockers like “Cannonball” and “I’m OK”, songs that sound like retreads of other tunes that even Yuck themselves have written before and better. (This is to say nothing about “Yr Face”, an exhausting mess of a song that follows a long and winding path to absolutely nothing.)
Overall, though, Stranger Things is good. Fans are sure to find something charming about it, as Yuck remain a capable, enjoyable band. However, they seem to have lost the plot a bit with this one. While it occasionally points towards new and different paths that Yuck can follow, it also finds them returning to a comfort zone that may not be as comfortable for the listener. More of the same isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but given that Yuck are clearly capable of so much more, it makes this embrace of overtly familiar sounds and styles that much more disappointing.