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Artist: Yuck

Album: Yuck

Label: Fat Possum

Review date: Feb. 14, 2011

The big opening gag for Fred Armisen’s and Carrie Brownstein’s Portlandia is a song that goes on and on about how “the spirit of the 90s is alive in Portland.” Since both had a hand in that spirit (thanks to Trenchmouth and Sleater-Kinney), they’re in a decent place to comment, but they are too provinicial in their scope. The reunion circuit is quite literally overflowing with first wave indie bands that are hitting all the right nostalgia buttons while still pulling in new fans. Superchunk’s got a new record. Pavement’s got a new cake. The Dismemberment Plan just played late night. J Mascis is re-entering his solo phase. Even Archers of Loaf are quietly testing the water in Chapel Hill for the inevitable reboot.

So the main question for anyone who grew up on these bands nowadays is why would you want to sound like them? These are the originators, after all, and for the most part they’re picking up exactly where they left off. Where does the new kid come off trying to throw in with the cool crowd?

The answer is actually pretty simple: because you’re good at it. And on Yuck’s first album, it looks like they know it. More timid bands might be scared off or overthink things in an attempt to distinguish themselves from the past, but not Yuck. Not only do they hold their own, they show how pointless the whole name game really is. You could waste your time picking out all the referents and homages and clear-cut cases of theft, but that kind of music nerd dickswinging defeats the purpose of listening in the first place.

There are a lot of good songs on here, to the point where the band’s consistency can border on monotony. They work with a very narrow scope, just two modes of songwriting, which leaves little room for error. But when you pop in for just a song or three, this limited range isn’t so obvious. In that sense, Yuck’s first album is already working like a greatest hits collection.

The first style is exemplified by “Get Away.” Loud, lush, and absurdly catchy, it’s filled from wall to wall with distorted guitars and redlined vocals that go through the most primal emotions. Its sonic deluge sounds simple enough at first pass, but there’s a lot that emerges after you’ve listened five or more times. At first it’s the tambourine, then it’s the bass break, then it’s a game of guess-the-pedal.

These properties all apply to other standouts like “The Wall,” “Operation,” and the supremely rutted-out epic that is “Rubber.” The other side of the coin, however, is “Suck,” crafted from a solid block of sentimentality and whittled down to the barest of essentials. One guitar. One voice. Barely a drum. A song built for heartaches and mixtapes almost exclusively, and so is unabashed about lines like “I’ve had enough of being young and free.”

The excitement for this record isn’t a product of Yuck’s talent alone, but more a reflection of optimism for simply good pop music. You could call this a romantic notion, or maybe much ado about nothing, but the best new bands I’ve encountered in the past year have coalesced around elemental guitar rock that couldn’t give a fuck about “professionalism” or even something as stodgy as “originality.” Andrew Noz hits on this for his top picks in rap’s youngest generation, making the point that “hip hop is supposed to be sloppy as shit.” The too serious, the too contrived and the too old are rendered irrelevant. When it comes to indie rock’s youth of today, I feel the same way. Given the choice between a band doing what they love and a band doing what they think is cool, I’ll take earnestness every time. And in an age of unprecedented irony, that choice is, ironically, becoming easier with each new “it” kid. That’s why Yuck is worth talking about, even if they are more than a decade late to the conversation.

By Evan Hanlon

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