Yuck: Stranger Things and Lessons from the Past

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Yuck: <i>Stranger Things</i> and Lessons from the Past

Considering Yuck’s place in a long line of slacker bands, it’s sort of surprising to hear they’ve been through a lot of drama. The story’s been reported before: frontman leaves, band reorganizes and tries out some new sounds, and now here we are. But current frontman Max Bloom seems to think the band’s best days are the here and now. Their new album, Stranger Things, seems like a step forward that learned all the lessons it needed to from the past.

“When we approached this album,” Bloom says, “I wanted to take everything we learned over the past few years and move forward. Recording this album felt a lot more satisfying and fun, partly because there was no lingering pressure of time and money, but also because there was no outside influence. Making this album felt a lot simpler than it has in the past. We had a clear idea of what we wanted, and then we did it—there wasn’t much to debate over it.”

Up until now, Yuck was regularly pegged as one of the first bands to return to the sound of ‘90s indie rock for inspiration. It’s hard to find a review of any of their work that doesn’t make reference to Pavement, Built to Spill, Teenage Fanclub or other bands of the like. Bloom doesn’t necessarily think it’s a bad thing.

“I can completely understand why people refer to us as ‘’90s revivalists,’ even though the term makes me shudder slightly,” he says. “When we first started the band I was completely enamored by a handful of bands from the ‘90s, and that obsession is what really kickstarted things. But I guess as time went on I didn’t want to restrict myself to a particular decade. The bands that tend to appeal to me the most are the ones that have beautiful guitar sounds, which probably spans most decades in modern music. That being said, a majority of the albums I love are from the ‘90s because I do believe that was the best era for guitar music.”

Bloom’s love for guitar music really pays off on Stranger Things, considering some of the band’s best riffs are found therein. It’s something of a return to their debut given that their second album, Glow & Behold, was a little more focused on creating shoegaze-y atmosphere. But any sort of cohesion in sound for either of those albums isn’t something Bloom would characterize as a planned effort.

“I’d say the tone of the album is usually set by one or two songs and then all the other songs kind of fall into place around it,” he explains. “I have a habit of writing the opening track on the album first. On this album, ‘Hold Me Closer’ and ‘Cannonball’ were written in quite quick succession, and then all the other songs kind of fell into place. I wouldn’t say we decide on a cohesive direction for the album until we’re recording it.”

Yuck’s music is ultimately more vibrant because of this kind of spontaneity. The lack of a centrally planned modus operandi ultimately gives the songs more room to breathe and to be themselves. For instance, a lot of tracks here strike a melancholy mood, but it wasn’t really the band’s hope to come out with a melancholy record.

“I enjoy listening to happy music,” Bloom says. “But lyrically the songs on this album are quite personal and draw upon some difficult times over the past couple of years. I’m not sure how I would want people to feel when the listen to the album; if they feel anything then that would be great!”

That’s one area in which Yuck seems to differ from quite a few of its ‘90s forebears. Sure, Teenage Fanclub were unafraid of getting emotional, but Dinosaur Jr and Pavement ballads are few and far between. When they do crop up, they’re still a bit hard to parse as being personal to Malkmus or Mascis. Music is much less of a smirking affair for Bloom.

“I find making music a very cathartic thing, and I tend to write from a very unconscious place in my mind,” he says. “I’ve never really felt like the music I listen to has anything to do with irony or detachment; I only really listen to music that has an emotional effect on me.”

Catharsis happens regularly throughout the course of Stranger Things. It’s hard to get through a song without some lyric, guitar riff or melody line striking some sort of emotional chord. Yuck may be very friendly with distortion, but that doesn’t detract from the fact that melody seems first and foremost in their sound.

“The way a melody sounds and the way it’s presented is the most important aspect of songwriting to me,” Bloom says. “I think that’s the most integral part of pop music. I tend to judge a good song by being able to hum the melody after I hear it. I really like catchy music. When I listen to a great melody, it makes me feel very emotional.”

It shouldn’t come as particularly surprising that Bloom’s influenced by bands from outside the ‘90s in his pursuit of melodies worth humming.

“Big Star has always been a really important band for me, and I’ve always felt that they were the absolute masters of melody, particularly on #1 Record. I’m also really drawn to really aggressive music that balances noise with beautiful melodies, so bands like My Bloody Valentine, Husker Du and Sonic Youth were also really inspirational for me. I’m not much of a fan that bands that just have a ‘sound’ and lack any kind of melody in their songs.”

That’s what gives Yuck their biggest edge, and it’s an edge that really comes through clear on Stranger Things. They have a sound that pays homage to their influences while remaining their own, and it’s a sound anchored by catchiness and emotion.

“I don’t make music for any specific reason,” Bloom says. “I just do it because it’s the only thing that makes me feel truly fulfilled. I don’t think we’re a particularly unique band, and I don’t really want to be a unique band. I just aspire to make really good songs, and if people like them, then that’s great.”

Listen to “The Wall” from Yuck’s 2011 Daytrotter session in the player below.

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