Yuck doesn’t seem to be the best choice of band name, but it is one which suits their ugly sleeve art, depicting a cartoon of an ugly man, possibly about to throw up. As far as album covers go, it’s hard to know what they were thinking when they chose it, but it certainly makes an impression. Of this multi-national band (comprising of British, American and Japanese musicians), two members, Daniel Blumberg and Max Bloom have previously been members of little known alt-rock outfit Cajun Dance Party. Yuck’s core sound presents somewhat of a departure for them, largely trading in the feel-good, bouncy indie-rock of that band for something less subtle; this work often presenting itself in the style of Dinosaur Jr and Sonic Youth.
The UK newspaper The Guardian claimed that “to say [Yuck’s] debut sounded like it was recorded in a shed is probably a diss on the acoustic qualities of garden-based storage units”. They think they’re being clever, but to say that this sounds like a “shed recording” is more than unfair. Granted, if you’ve lived a sheltered life and all the rock records in your collection sound like they were produced by Roy Thomas Baker, Mutt Lange or Martin Birch, then sure, Yuck are lo-fi. But fact is, this album may be a teensy bit rough around the edges in places – in the same way its more direct influences could be – but it’s certainly not an album recorded on a tin-pot budget. You’d have to wonder what those Guardian chaps would make of ‘The Freed Weed’ by Sebadoh or the glorious Guided By Voices album ‘Bee Thousand’, if ‘Yuck’ is their ultimate idea of a lo-fi record.
For some of the album’s noisier numbers, the band’s principal influences couldn’t be more obvious. Parts of the opening number ‘Get Away’ obviously have early Dinosaur Jr as their blueprint and while Blumberg wisely avoids copying J Mascis’s Neil Young-esque whine, his vocals are still of the mid-90s alternative variety, coated in fuzziness. I should point out that while the tone is similar, neither Blumberg’s or Bloom’s guitar work has the edginess of Mascis at his best either, but even so, the end result is enjoyable, if predictable. ‘Operation’ utilises discordant riffs and a distorted vocal stolen directly from Sonic Youth, with almost nothing on hand which could be called original. Listening to the spiky rhythms, the influence is unmistakable to the point where you could almost be convinced you’ve heard Kim Gordon sing this herself.
When played loudly, ‘Holing Out’ will make you think your speakers have blown; its fuzzy guitars come at such a volume, you can barely hear the lead vocal. This doesn’t matter, of course, since the vocals are almost unimportant. There’s a sense of melody lurking beneath the wall of sound, but even so, Yuck appear to be more concerned with a general musical presence as opposed to any kind of intricacies. The general bluster here would either make J Mascis and Lou Barlow very proud or get them straight onto the phone to their lawyers. Even more extreme, ‘Rubber’ offers of seven minutes of ugly shoegaze drones, which barely deviate from their initial impact. There are reverbed vocals mushed under the barrage of noise, but in truth, the voice does not seem especially important. This is about maximum volume, minimal music, maximum impact. After about three minutes of this track, you’ll either be in your element, or hating it and thinking maybe My Bloody Valentine weren’t so bad. Try as they might, though, Yuck are unlikely to beat the New York outfit A Place To Bury Strangers when it comes to volume and reverb at this level.
Yuck’s debut isn’t all noise, however. There are a few of tracks on hand to demonstrate the band’s softer side. Listening to ‘Sunday’, it’s clear at least one of Yuck’s members has an ear for melody, for this is a track that delights with its chiming guitars and sunny vocal, recalling moments of The Posies and Teenage Fanclub. The influence from the latter is even stronger on ‘Shook Down’, with its gentle alternative pop leanings and use harmony vocals; there’s certainly nothing lo-fi here! Even lighter still, ‘Suicide Policeman’ has a slacker-pop quality, with Blumberg and his sister Ilana harmonising in a way which recalls Evan Dando and Juliana Hatfield. ‘Stutter’, meanwhile, brings a wave of melodies akin to Sonic Youth meets Billy Corgan. Twangy guitars and soft rumble of the bass combined with a vocal so hushed it almost floats. The general tone of ‘Suck’ brings more Corgan-isms with its almost mechanical rhythm guitar parts. The way those guitars interact with the rumbling bass are almost a dead ringer for the softer material from The Smashing Pumpkins’ ‘Gish’ (‘Rhinoceros’, in particular), although with slightly more tuneful vocals.
Occasionally, they seem content with meeting the listener halfway. The pop-fuelled ‘Georgia’ has another shared male/female vocal, but while the song has a sugar-coated vibe, it’s drenched in distortion and reverb, making Yuck sound like a band whose calling is to perform Velocity Girl covers produced by Steve Albini. With an equal measure of pop hook, alternative rock and feel-good qualities, it’s one of the debut’s more immediate numbers.
Each of Yuck’s different (largely borrowed) styles work well for them, and the band seem to be smart enough to realise that at the beginning of 2011, the sounds of this debut could be considered cool and retro. While it’s fairly short on originality, it should bring a glow of nostalgia to those listeners of a certain age.