There’s a cool phenomenon -– one that has always existed but is magnified by the role the internet plays in music discovery today -– where a band will rise from complete obscurity into common knowledge within the span of months, weeks, or even days. While some bands slowly creep into the public (or indie) consciousness, others blossom overnight, prodded into the spotlight, whether they’re ready or not, by Pitchfork and the blogosphere hype cycle.
Such is the situation with Yuck, a band that until recently got very little press across the pond from their home base in London. Slightly more than a year ago, in fact, Yuck wasn’t even a band. Drummer Jonny Rogoff dropped out of college to join the band in December 2009, after meeting Yuck’s lead singer for a day –- yes, one day -– in Israel. Ready for more ridiculous statements? The band recorded their demos on a Dictaphone in guitarist Max Bloom’s room. Daniel Blumberg, the lead singer, is 20. Ilana, Danny’s sister and the band’s occasional back-up vocalist, missed their first gig in New York last week, because she’s stuck in high school in London.
For a band that is undeniably young, though, Yuck is not inexperienced. Danny and Max played in buzz band Cajun Dance Party, releasing their debut album on XL at the ripe old age of 15. The roots show; Yuck makes fantastically mature music. Across the band’s self titled debut's dozen tracks the quintet sounds confident, patient, and experienced. They know when to push and when to sit back and let the music take control of the pace. So responsive is Yuck to their individual songs that they seem almost like shape shifters, without a consistent vision other than making enjoyable tunes.
At the album’s open, the quintet resembles the power-packed Japandroids, with guitar-heavy, fuzzed out rock. Songs like “Get Away” and “Holing Out” have the crunched and processed feel of that school of rock, placing vocals in the background and living on fierce guitar riffs. Elsewhere, Yuck evokes the 90’s - a humorous comparison, since most (all?) of the band’s members were in single-digit ages throughout that decade. A lot of the album has a grunge feel to it, although it lacks the despondent feel of that genre; “Stutter,” in particular, sounds like an emotionally developed Nirvana B-side. At still other moments, Yuck sounds like an eighties relic – a more conservative Clash meets a happier Smiths.
But let’s stop playing this comparison game, because, simply put, this comparison game sucks. The “this band sounds like that band” description is a crutch for music critics, myself included, and it sells the band short. As Yuck’s lead singer Danny put it in an interview last year, “We don’t write songs thinking ‘we want it to sound like this’.“ Point taken.
So instead, let’s talk about style. Yuck plays guitar-driven rock and roll that you can get lost in; where some bands use riffs and hooks as benchmarks and turning points, Yuck builds their songs on them. “Operation,” for example, repeatedly uses dynamic guitar lines that could easily be the central focus of the song. Instead, they add color and flavor to the churning guitars and emotive but droning vocals. “Georgia” picks up the pace a bit and shows the band taking on a sunnier disposition, with Ilana adding female vocals to lighten the mix. “Sunday” shows off the band’s lyricism in the sort of near-key singing that makes you concentrate more on the words: “Cold wind blows and I’m thinking of you/and how you’re not with me/I used to choreograph the animals in the sea.” “Suicide Policeman” is wistful without dipping into the morose. Throughout Yuck, the mood changes constantly. The quality, however, never falters.
Perhaps the best way to describe Yuck’s many-faced style is as dream rock — not so driven and programmed that you would call it rock and roll, but not so ethereal or woozy that you would call it absolutely dreamy either. In some ways, Yuck’s indecision is what makes it hit and miss, since standout songs for some people will be sleepers for others; on the other hand, it is in that diversity that Yuck finds a strength and a home. Sure, they may settle down as they continue developing as a band. For now, though, they’re an enjoyable snapshot of the unbridled potential of a young band with some road in the rearview mirror.