Album Review: Cherubs - '2 YNFYNYTY'

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Cherubs returns after a twenty year hiatus to deliver a grooving fuzzed out rock record.

Austin, TX band Cherubs always had a curious place in the American punk underground. Forming in 1992, they started writing and recording just as more abrasive rock music like Nirvana and Soundgarden broke the mainstream.

Sonically, they were closer to the combination of fuzzed out noise rock and angular post-hardcore of bands like the Jesus Lizard and Butthole Surfers, both bands that had a decent go at mainstream radio rock formats during their heydays in the late 80s to early 90s.

To boot, Cherubs second record, 1994's Heroin Man, was a critical smash, being cited as one of the best noise rock and post-hardcore records of the decade.

But, for whatever reason, the gods of rock did not smile upon Cherubs. Unlike their peers, they never really broke the radio or even a significant portion of the underground.

Internal stress mounted and, after a fist-fight following a concert, they broke up, leaving Heroin Man as a posthumous record by a matter of a few months.

And too bad, too; who knows what success they might have had were they able to tour behind and support what was their best record.

So it came as a surprise when last year, after almost no news from the band members about the group for the past two decades, they announced that not only had they reformed, but that they were already in the studio recording material. They were joined by producer Mike McCarthy, famous for working with Spoon and ...And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead, two bigger indie rock bands who have clearly heard a Cherubs record or two in their day, and masterer Howie Weinberg, who has worked with Nirvana and Slayer in the past.

These names, by the way, and the credits to them, were announced in the same message declaring new music to be on the way.

Cherubs wanted the world to know that they were working with a combination of old ideas of former peers and new ideas of groups influenced by their work.

For the most part, they come through. Aside from the two lengthier tracks, these songs stick to a fairly simple formula of fuzzed out rock bass, psychedelic noisy guitar work and surprisingly tasteful drumming.

They follow the Josh Homme-school of post-Zeppelin rock music, taking odd time grooves and giving them a sexy but subtle swing with the drums.

The purpose of the drums on this record can't be understated; while at first, the ears are overwhelmed by fuzzed out riffing led by the bass and wild, thick walls of noise coming from the guitars, not to mention the nasally punk vocals, it is the tasteful, precise, and mildly swinging drums that drive the ship.

The bass and guitars for the most part meld together into a thick and wild wall of fuzzed out sound. Imagine Queens of the Stone Age blaring at too-loud a volume from tinny car speakers; or, perhaps one better, imagine Kyuss through an old Walkman with the bass boost turned on.

The guitars and bass are rendered into a wild and hoary mass of almost undifferentiable fuzz, swinging and sliding from note to note rather than nailing chord changes the way a standard punk band would.

They follow the noise rock ethos of letting the power do the talking, and it works; the mix and mastering of their guitars and bass give it the overwhelming rock energy that rock (any rock, but especially this kind) needs to work, and the results feel almost like a live record as opposed to a studio one.

This is where the drums come in. I don't mean to imply that the guitars and bass don't have an inherent sense of rhythm; they do, and whenever they slip ever-so-slightly out of time, it feels less sloppy and more organic and alive.

Same goes with the live-record feel of the vocals, sounding less overly practiced and more off-the-cuff, like the singer is barely making it back to the mic during an intense guitar work out, barely getting the vocals out of his winded lungs before stepping back to dig deeper into the riff.

But these things in less refined hands can turn from noise rock into regular old noise, and not in the flattering or experimental way. Songs of this energy and slipperiness can slide out of control if you're not careful.

The drummer holds them together, though. It's a subtle thing; he still slams and thumps and grooves with power.

But there is also restraint; he doesn't pull a Keith Moon or Mike Portnoy and tear up the drumkit (not that there's anything wrong with that!).

Instead, the drummer leans closer to Bonham, picking tight, simple drum patterns, played crisply enough to nail down the time, swung enough to give it a sense of movement and groove, and with enough power behind the hits to obscure the deep precision at work.

It's the sound of veteran rock players, knowing to evoke power, evoke the illusion that the songs might slip off the rails at any moment without them actually being at risk of doing so, and burying the evidence of their deep control so all you notice is the rich, fuzzed out, post-Sabbath riffs and melodies and the energetic nasally vocals.

The two longer tracks, "Cumulo Nimbus" and "Party Ice", both strike a kind of Queens of the Stone Age ballad style, offering clearer bass tones, slower tempos, and guitars that are more abstract painting than dense noise.

They primarily serve to break up the pace of the record and, save for the closing acoustic track with noisy cassette tape dub backing, close out the two sides of the record.

In terms of cool downs, they aren't bad; as standalone tracks, I could take or leave them.

That's perhaps the biggest issue with this record, if I had to pick one. The songs are composed of really solid riffs, but even after a handful of listens, not a great deal of the record is sticking in the gut. It's a pleasurable listen, and it has plenty of energy, and I think if you're the type to put on rock or punk during parties this will hit the spot.

But as a standalone listen, it's hard to push.

Don't get me wrong; this is a very solid rock record, and if you are looking for some energetic fuzzed out rock tunes, this record will do you well.

But, unfortunately, it doesn't do much to push beyond being merely solid.

I could be wrong, though. The sneaky thing about records like this is that their solidness makes them easy to put on and play at any time in almost any mood.

That kind of record tends to grow on me after a while; while certain records may excel more obviously in a single area, a really solid record that can float on its pure energy has me returning again and again in various states of mind, making new connections each time.

My album of the year for 2009, Baroness' Blue Record, was originally my second below Mastodon's Crack the Skye; it was almost a year later, having gone back again and again to one and not the other (despite how much I love and played to death Mastodon's record), that I realized Baroness' record was superior.

Same with Queen of the Stone Age's Era Vulgeris and Yeasayer's Fragrant World.

TL;DR: Highly, highly recommend this rock record.

Image taken from Cherubs' Bandcamp page.