It's been five years since Yuck's eponymous debut album, which impressively harnessed a post-grunge sound that made that record feel like a legitimate 1990's relic, rather than a pale imitation. That the band from London haven't quite managed to capture the same magic formula since, is perhaps less of a surprise given that then frontman Daniel Blumberg left in 2013. Third album Stranger Things is an attempt to banish some of the ghosts associated with such a major shift so early in a musical career. While the band may feel these new songs present a strong statement that they've now found their niche, I'm a little less convinced as it falls between two stalls.
It all starts positively enough, 'Hold Me Closer' and 'Cannonball' showcase a return to the sound of the first album. It's all fuzzy guitars and catchy hooks, it feels effortless and fun. That these two songs were put out as singles prior to Stranger Things' release isn't a shock then, but they do misrepresent the rest of the material here. The opening six and a half minutes of the album are visceral and pack a punch, but a sudden shift in gear finds Yuck embracing the quieter more sullen shoegaze sound of their second record. 'Like A Moth' sounds eerily reminiscent of Beach House's recent work, however it's an inferior take on that dream-pop sound. Stranger Things then veers haphazardly between these two extremes and doesn't really ever settle on something in-between that Yuck could claim as their own.
Singer and guitarist Max Bloom's comments around Stranger Things seem to be keen to point out that this is a set of songs that lay bare the process of Yuck working through their past problems. Rather than feeling triumphantly cathartic though the material for the most part sounds transfixed by angst. The title track sounds suspiciously like a jaunty Bluetones cast-off, yet features a chorus mantra of "I hate myself". It all feels too much like a teenage diary, which rarely equates to a strong artistic statement.
Musically no matter what Yuck turn their hand to here, it's all very accomplished. It treads a fine line between sounding familiar and derivative. Rarely does Stranger Things stray into the latter category, although it wears it's influences proudly on it's sleeve. Bassist Mariko Doi's turn on lead vocals for 'As I Walk Away' is also a pleasant surprise adding an ethereal sheen to one of the stronger moments here.
Stranger Things is a portrait of a band struggling to settle on a sound that defines them, and it suffers because of it. If the band had stuck to the conviction of the opening salvo or alternatively explored the quieter corners of the album in more depth I suspect Stranger Things would be a more satisfying listen. These songs were recorded in a home studio for the most part and while it sounds polished, perhaps a limited amount of time in an established studio or a label applying an amount of pressure to the band could have actually benefited Yuck by imbuing the songs here with a little more urgency. By no means a disaster, Stranger Things doesn't hold a torch to Yuck's eponymous debut.
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