When Times New Viking opened for Yo La Tengo during their 2006 tour, the juxtaposition, though it made a certain kind of sense on paper, was viscerally jarring. Five years later, it feels like that was an important cultural moment, a clash of two worlds. I mention this because I’m antsy about calling Yuck’s debut “noise-pop,” and it’s probably because we’re now inundated with groups for whom noise is something to squint through, groups that process that hyphenation ‘top-down’ (as cognitive scientists would say), ‘noise-pop’ as, simply, noise plus pop.
“TNV vs. YLT” isn’t a hard and fast distinction, of course, but you know what I’m talking about; when a group like Yuck uses that slow-shutter highway feedback, popularized by YLT, the song bends around it. The melody can’t just chug along unnoticingly. Noise, accidental or controlled, becomes a part of every song’s development — first listen, it’s gorgeous; fifth listen, it’s crucial. This also means there’s less of it, which is probably why Yuck circulated “Rubber” to promote the album. Alas, decontextualization hurt that particular song: in the blogosphere, it was flat, blurry, tame even, but as a closer it casts a massive shadow over the previous 11 tracks.
The biggest qualm you could have with Yuck is that the band makes their succinct throwback seem so easy, like they’ve got it down to a science. True, they make no bones about working within a paradigm. “Sunday” will have you flipping through On Fire to figure out which song it lifts its intro from (answer: about half of them). The YLT reference points don’t end with spacious feedback: you’ve got your languid folk rotations; you’ve got your huge, trembling guitar intervals; you’ve got Ilana Blumberg’s totally indispensable ‘guest’ harmonies. But the songwriting is closer in attitude to that of Eric’s Trip, which is to say, it sounds earnest, youthful, and immediate. The lyrics are wantonly embryonic: “Should I give in?” “I can’t get away.” “Time is on the outside.” “Trying to make it through the wall.” They don’t sing their words like poets, but rather like kids who feel moments too strongly not to document them somehow, not to immortalize them in some tiny way. The low-mix vocals of “Holing Out” push the song against the cusp at which sheer force of documentation subsumes message. Vocalist Daniel Blumberg can sound as wispy as Sam Prekop and as unhinged as Brian King.
These points of reference wouldn’t be worth much if Yuck didn’t deliver so consistently. Look, I have nothing but distaste for the old cop-out, “sometimes you want to stop analyzing the music and just enjoy it,” but it’s hard to be theoretical about Yuck’s greatest asset, which is that they don’t believe in waste. None of these songs is an inferior version of other songs on the album; each dangles from its own distinct nostalgic thread. What is it about “Stutter,” anyway, that elevates it from plodding AmAnSet worship (mid-tempo beat, four-note cycles, frictive whispers) to a capsule of such warmth that it greets its listener like an old friend in the first few seconds? Maybe it’s the Polaroid-centric lyrics, the aching clarity that the locus of our hopes for the future can only lie in the past? We believe this so readily, but Yuck themselves are a living counterargument: this music is being made right now, and if they’re ‘plundering,’ they’re doing it artfully enough to keep their listeners looking forward. I need my occasional fix of reaffirmation; Yuck need high-fives all around.