Ambition is a word not often associated with modern indie rock these days, so it's a wonderful change of pace that it has been enthusiastically heaped upon the New York-based rock outfit Cymbals Eat Guitars and their new sophomore album "Lenses Alien."
"Rifle Eyesight (Proper Name)," the sprawling opener, is an eight-minute kaleidoscope of stripped down songwriting, My Bloody Valentine-style feedback and progressive rock power. It's a proper pacemaker for the rest of the album, a set overflowing (sometimes too much) with interesting ideas, tones and a unique, wandering sense to songwriting that make Cymbals Eat Guitars all its own. That it is even remotely cohesive shows the legitimate power and talent behind the group, chief among them songwriter-guitarist Joseph D'Agostino.
With a slightly boyish voice that recalls Superchunk's Mac McCaughan, D'Agostino lends himself to a natural vulnerability and openness that cuts through the band's considerable noise. Unlike McCaughan, however, he is less a concise, funny songwriter than an abstract lyricist, usually forgoing rhyme and rhythm for tone and imagery that recalls poetry, as he stumbles through nights of heartbreak. childhood loss and rare slices of redemption. It's a style that is easier to appreciate than love, but the warm interplay between his guitar and bassist Matt Whipple often provides the access point and approachability the songs and their structures often lack.
The rest of the group is equally game. Drummer Matt Miller and keyboardist Brian Hamilton keep these tunes at a good medium boil, creating a nicely-paced vibe and tone reminiscent of Built to Spill, with its melodic snatches intercut with guitar trembles and vocal showcases while never getting too aggressive.
When this approach works, the band creates some truly memorable moments. Songs such as "Definite Darkness" and "Another Tunguska" are lovely midtempo showcases with intricate playing of definite power and skill that also let D'Agostino's musings breath a little.
Sometimes this can be overwhelming. D'Agostino's lyrical obtuseness and the band's wall of noise sometimes fail to engage. There are, at times, too many influences and sounds for the listener's own good.
But if D'Agostino can continue to sharpen and define his role as a rather unique songwriter and the band can come on its own live (as some of the soundscapes created here clearly indicate), Cymbals Eat Guitars should be a considerable force in the future, with "Lenses Alien" a crucial, if far from perfect, step in its still young career.