Cymbals Eat Guitars have a way of being noncommittal. Over the course of four albums, the Staten Island indie rockers have edged their way into various forms of rock, balancing performances as akin to Foals as they are Titus Andronicus. Their latest, Pretty Years (Barsuk Records), largely follows suit, with one major difference: frontman Joseph D’Agostino has had a change of perspective. The downtrodden D’Agostino of 2014’s Lose seldom makes an appearance. Instead, the lead singer is introspective, perhaps love-struck, and definitely grown-up. In “Have a Heart,” a song designed for mainstream alternative radio, D’Agostino sings, “But I have a heart I wanna put to use. Empathy never came so naturally ‘till I met you,” and later on, “Can’t believe the shit that we were promised really might exist.” Elsewhere, “4th of July, Philadelphia (SANDY)” is an anthemic ripper that delves into a bad experience involving fireworks and getting in a car with a drunk driver, while “Dancing Days” may hint that D’Agostino is just too old for this crap.
As is tradition, Cymbals Eat Guitars deliver a mixed bag of music with Pretty Years, though their maturation coincides with some tracks feeling especially homegrown and like classic rock. This tack is most noticeable on “Wish,” a song that attempts to swagger like the E-Street Band. The sax-laden cut ultimately proves perturbing, especially when D’Agostino takes an inadvisable stab at Bruce Springsteen’s gravelly vocal delivery. However, Cymbals Eat Guitars are effective with space and patience, as on “Finally,” a gorgeous opener that meshes the best qualities of The Hold Steady and The War on Drugs.
Pretty Years shows that even with a change in mindset, Cymbals Eat Guitars continues to produce a similar sonic splatter. For every outright rapturous tune like “Finally” or “4th of July,” there’s a confusing song like “Wish.” Simply put, until Cymbals Eat Guitars consider exploring a singular sound, they’re a band best approached in small doses (i.e. songs) rather than albums.