Yuck: Glow and Behold
Yuck Lost Itself When It Lost Its Front Man
I imagine that Yuck never expected their second album to be as much a metaphysical question as an artistic statement. Yet with the departure of lead singer Daniel Blumberg after their self-titled debut album, and the promotion of guitarist Max Bloom to fill the role, Yuck turns their sophomore effort Glow & Behold into a chance to meditate on the question of what, exactly, makes a band a band. Some groups have managed to replace prominent members and continue to perform successfully. But is Queen really Queen without Freddie Mercury? Is Journey truly Journey without Steve Perry? Yuck haven’t attained the sort of cultural prominence that makes Blumberg’s departure quite as inherently an existential question—these guys only have one album to compare to Glow & Behold, and for many future fans of Yuck, the debut will probably be considered a footnote. Yet as someone who championed that first album when it was released, there is a barrier to entry here. Yuck is not the band I used to know, even if they are still wearing its clothing.
What was so fascinating about Yuck was the way it seemed to approximate and update a lot of great sounds from the past. It was a My Bloody Valentine-esque update of Shoegaze most prominently, but it also seemed to capture some elements of Yo La Tengo, Superchunk, and others. There was a lot to love about that album on its own merits, of course, but it was also fascinating to see the way it was in constant conversation with its forebears. Glow & Behold loses a bit of that edge on two fronts: it seems the imitation is weaker (or at least, an imitation of weaker material), and the rougher edges that provided Yuck its individuality seem to have been sanded off. It is hard not to wonder what Glow & Behold would have sounded like if Blumberg was still behind the microphone, still co-writing and brainstorming with the group.
The shift in vocalists necessarily means a shift in what the band can do well; to some extent, this is the same group serving a new master. Its unfair to claim Bloom isn’t as capable a vocalist as Blumberg, but while the latter’s nasal sound gave a sneer to much of the band’s debut, Bloom is more serviceable than interesting as a vocalist. When he brings something to the material, it is usually a sense of disconnect from the melody, as if an Emo-band’s lead singer stumbled into a shoegaze studio, shrugged, and thrust himself in front of the microphone. On tracks like “Middle Sea,” ”Somewhere, and “Nothing New,” his vocals actively work to undermine the music surrounding them, and end up undercutting the effectiveness of the song.
Not everything here is a total failure, though. In fact, some songs sounds like steps forward, even if in a different direction than I had anticipated. “Lose My Breath,” is a solid Brit-pop riff (though it is better when Bloom isn’t singing), “How Does It Feel” has a solid horn-section that would probably have felt out of place on Yuck, and final track “Glow Behold” at least feels like a half-decent attempt to mimic Oasis, though it never gets close to the heights of that band or of Yuck’s own previous imitations. Glow & Behold has added instrumental tracks, entire new instruments, and an expanded sonic palette to play with, yet it somehow feels more homogenous than Yuck. This is an album that has thrown a lot more in but somehow manages to be less than the sum of its parts. There’s a lot going on here, but it all feels empty somehow.
Ultimately, though this may sound unfair, I think Yuck lost what made it Yuck when Blumberg walked out the door. Yuck was deeply indebted to predecessors, but it had a personality all its own. It had presence that is lacking on Glow & Behold. A lot of rock and roll, even in its indie quarters, is a cult of personality, and though Bloom makes the gestures, he lacks the charm. This lends Glow & Behold an aimlessness that proves fatal. This album isn’t about anything more than the fact that Yuck needed to make a second album, and it feels every bit as generic and formless as that edict implies. Yuck is a band in need of a strong personality to anchor its experiments and to sell its blatant imitations. You can’t out My Bloody Valentine the actual My Bloody Valentine. But if you’re charming enough, clever enough, and have the right presence, I’m more likely to enjoy watching you try.