Yuck - Stranger Things LP
It's a classic story, especially in the world of shoegaze and dream pop. Band makes noisy, raw, near brilliant debut album, then follows it with an album that bleeds out all the noise and energy and sets the course for the slick, mass-produced alt-pop mainstream. It happened to Yuck. Their first album was damn near as good as anything from the golden age of shoegaze, then their sophomore effort, Glow & Behold, was an effort to listen to all the way through. Losing a key member (guitarist Daniel Blumberg) certainly didn't help; neither did writing a batch of songs that were meek where their previous songs had been reckless. Replacing noise with jangle was another bad idea, though the biggest problem was the overall lack of energy. Most bands would never be able to recover from such a drastic drop-off in quality, and it's likely most fans of exciting noise pop wrote Yuck off a long time before their third album, Stranger Things, arrived in 2016. Amazingly, Yuck manage to not only exceed lowered expectations, but they made a thoroughly entertaining album that successfully blends melody and noise, pop smarts with guitar fuzz, and in the end recaptures the energy of their debut while still hitting some power pop sweet spots. Kicking off with the thumping '90s noise rock love song "Hold Me Closer," the record alternates between guitar pedal workouts and chiming pop lifted from the Teenage Fanclub playbook, almost all of them being more memorable and fun than anything on Glow & Behold. They aren't doing anything that much different here, but what makes it work this time are the boosted levels of passion in the playing, the much less fussy production, and the improvement in Max Bloom's vocal presentation. Instead of sounding strangely meek and whispery, he really dives into the songs and lays himself bare. A track like "I'm OK" would have been OK with decent vocals; his pushed-to-the-limit yowling really helps to sell it to the back rows. This kind of dedication helps make the album a huge, huge course correction. It only sags in a couple places when they scale it back too far in the alt-pop direction, like on the meandering "As I Walk Away," but even those moments are saved by a plucky guitar solo or two. After Glow & Behold, the only thing Yuck seemed ready to do was break up and get day jobs; Stranger Things shows they weren't quite ready for that as it vaults them back into the noise pop/shoegaze conversation, where they seem poised to stay for a good long while.