Nearly every artist of reasonable ability and young age in the history of the popular music canon has, in all probability, been labeled a -precocious talent’, an appellation used so blithely that anyone from the relentless -um-boppers’ Hanson to Miley Cyrus has, at one point, huddled together under the umbrella term.
Yet, every so often, there comes along a musician whose genuinely, overwhelmingly advanced, highly developed abilities restore credence to the bastardised notion of young prodigy. Having barely escaped his teens, Cymbals Eat Guitars frontman and lyricist Joseph Ferocious is well on his well to fulfilling the prophecy of The Wrens’ Charles Bissel, who predicted that ‘Cymbals Eat Guitars/Joseph Ferocious will end up indie famous within the year’ It is a statement that is more than substantiated with the release of Where There Are Mountains, a striking synthesis of majestic instrumentation and poetic lyricism that inspires and excites in equal measures.
The sonic rudiments of the album are composed of the quintessential -90s alt-rock distorted guitars and the devastating, emotive vocals, which are indisputably the centrepiece of album. Using his remarkable ability to oscillate between the kind of shrieking that bursts blood vessels and induces hernias and soft, velvety melodies, Ferocious crafts a series of stunning peaks and troughs that are set against a backdrop of rich, sprawling sounds. Case in point is the first track of the album, ”¦ And the Hazy Sea’, which begins with an explosion of surging, cacophonous cymbals, guitars and singing. With an abundance of ebbs and flows throughout the track, swirling Wurlitzer melodies and quirky vocal embellishments are repeatedly replaced with thrashing vocals and crashing drums.
With such schizophrenic tonal shifts in one song, it’s not surprising that Cymbals Eat Guitars seek always to explore and never to limit themselves or their sound. ‘Some Trees (Merritt Moon)’ is a stark stylistic contrast from the album opener; a concise and propulsive two minute mesh of post-punk dance and shoegaze, hook-laden with an unstoppable melody that is cleverly contradicted by the portentous lyrical content; ‘But by the time that girl had hanged herself/I could have looked out my back window/And watched her neck just snap’. A similar disparity is drawn in ‘Wind Phoenix’, as Ferocious sings about charred remains and fallen child stars, soundtracked by fanciful glockenspiel, flourishes of electric piano and the epic orchestration of guitars.
Cymbals Eat Guitars aim to challenge their listeners; nothing is ever what is seems. A song that begins with a resonating noise rock instrumental (‘Indiana’) ends up sounding like the progeny of Spoon and Stephen Malkmus, while fey electronic piano melodies can be replaced by J. Mascis guitar solos which in turn can be replaced by a triumphant assortment in horns in the blink of an eye. And in that lies the true joy of Why There Are Mountains – curious musical contradictions that are so skillfully crafted they are nothing short of endlessly captivating.