In 2011, Yuck had a breakout debut with their self-titled album. In a digital age where sequencing means less, they started the album with a one-two punch that has rarely been met: The open bleeding wound “Get Away” and the elliptical romp “The Wall.” Yuck tapped into a 90s alt-rock sweet spot that blended crisp and primal guitar riffs with blunt emotional lyrics. They had a lot of great ingredients that came together for satisfying indie rock for people that grew up on pop punk.
That’s why it was so strange when Yuck announced, almost nonchalantly, that lead singer Daniel Blumberg wouldn’t be joining them for their follow-up record. His youthful, slurred slacker voice was an important ingredient to Yuck’s atmosphere and it was hard to imagine the songs without him. Lead guitarist Max Bloom would take over who sang on only one track (“Operation”) on their debut. But then again, that song was practically indistinguishable from those that surrounded it — so maybe the absence could be minimized.
Glow and Behold arrives like your mom’s new boyfriend. You’re not really sure about this guy, but he’ll probably be nice, so you’ll give him a shot. This metaphor relies on you not being 13 years old and still feeling the scar of the divorce and thus biased against anyone that is not your real dad. Anyway.
Here’s the new album’s one-two punch: A hypnotic 3-minute instrumental with brief punches of brass called “Sunrise in Maple Shade” and then “Out of Time,” a mid-tempo relaxant with bright guitars and mellow singing. It’s not a punch at all. It’s not bad either, but it’s haunted by the name on cover. That’s the thing about Glow and Behold: It doesn’t feel like Yuck anymore, and that’s a shame.
Max Bloom’s voice and writing style is just so noticeably different that anyone who bought into Yuck will likely have little to latch onto. There are no monstrous rippers on this album like “Get Away” or “Holing Out.” The closest thing is “Middle Sea,” which is more cyclical, under-written, and relies on lyrical hooks that aren’t so enthralling. It’s not that “All the time with you / wake me up tomorrow” from “Holing Out” is a vastly better line than “I don’t want to wait forever / I want you now,” but the former feels instinctual and an indulgence into some base-level earnestness. Blumberg sang with an intensity and sometimes a snarl, while Bloom sings with a protective shell.
That’s not to say his voice or his writing is bad, it just doesn’t serve most of these songs when they try and recreate Yuck in cooldown mode. The common comparison back in 2011 was Dinosaur Jr. and J. Mascis, but their influence isn’t felt here. On “How Does It Feel,” they start out sounding like the remnants of Girls. Max Bloom sometimes does a dead-on Damon Albarn. In fact, the titular closing track “Glow and Behold” could probably pass as a Blur song to casual fans. That’s not a bad mark to hit at all, but it also fails to cut and sear and drive straight into your heart.
Not that every Yuck song was a distorted electric guitar locomotive. Even when they slowed it down though, they retained the same attitude: a mix of punk, twee, alternative and hormones weaponized into total yearning. Electric guitars would overtake the vocals, drowning them in hazy fuzz, to become the vehicle that moves everything along. That doesn’t happen anymore.
Any review that talks solely about what an album isn’t is garbage writing, I know. I would argue that by retaining the name and style they’ve invited comparisons, but it deserves to be evaluated on its own merit. So what is Glow and Behold? How does it stand up on its own two feet?
The answer is merely okay. Without the intensity, Yuck sounds a lot like other mellow cruising guitar music. “Lose My Breath” sounds great on a sunny day along Pacific Coast Highway, “Rebirth” is My Bloody Valentine without the production tricks. The most impassioned song is “Nothing New,” but instead of needing to scream it just needs to sing a melody to the rafters. It’s that swelling chorus – “I will wait for you / say what you are / it’s nothing new” – is the only time the writing conveys something that feels boldly honest. It’s still a departure, but it has a similar urgency. It sounds like it has to be sung, instead of a line that was written to approximate their style.
Glow and Behold ends on the aforementioned titular track. The last two minutes are an electric guitar playing a spinal riff in the distance. It’s a hypnotic end that narrows your focus down to a single rusty riff, like watching the band walk off stage one-by-one at the end of a concert. It almost sounds like it’s building into something explosive, some breakdown or solo or bleeding scream. But it never comes.
Justin Pansacola is a writer living in Los Angeles. At the University of California, Riverside he received his degree in Creative Writing, not English, although he has resigned to the fact that no one cares about the difference. You can follow him on Twitter @wordcore. On some nights he looks up at the moon and wonders if you’re looking at the same moon, too.