The word "yuck" is perhaps not the most generous association possible for a band, but like a car crash or Twitter, there's an undeniable attraction to things that repulse. That same approach/avoidance dynamic is at play on the U.K. quartet Yuck's third album, Stranger Things (Balaclava Records, Feb. 2016), which clothes unpleasant feelings and expressions of disconnect in sweet, chunky/shimmering rock melodies.
While singer/guitarist Max Bloom said he has heard others describe Yuck's sound as a sweet-and-sour combo, "I definitely wasn't aware of that. I think it's because music and lyrics are to quite different things to me. When I'm playing music, I'll hum words along or say phrases that don't really make sense over the music and then kind of fill in the gaps a bit later."
The loping psych-pop flavored "I'm OK" laments losing "someone to rely on / got no shoulder to cry on." Elsewhere Bloom notes how hard it is to be "Two Hearts In Motion," while the Big Star-ish title track, asks "Why do you feel sad over a girl? / It's hard to think we were always meant to be."
While the music is bright and ringing, the lyrical tone is more melancholy—not an altogether uncommon pairing.
"I quite enjoy writing about myself and I guess I enjoy writing lyrics about quite mundane things. I guess lyrically it was pretty inspired by things that I had been going through for the last few years," Bloom said. "It's been a difficult couple of years and it's just something that I wanted to write about because it felt cathartic."
Yuck first burst on the scene with its eponymous 2011 debut, beating peers to the punch by biting into that late-'80s/early-'90s alt-rock crunch. Yuck was the brainchild of Bloom and Daniel Blumberg, childhood chums whose band, Cajun Dance Party, earned them some attention as teens and resulted in 2008's The Colourful Life, produced by Suede guitarist Bernard Butler.
They bailed before the band imploded and threw themselves into Yuck, indulging shared interests in American alt-rock acts like the Pixies, Replacements and Dinosaur Jr., as well as classic U.K. punk like Alternative Television and Wire.
From the outset, Bloom and Blumberg weren't sure their alt-punk amalgam would succeed.
"[I]t was something we really believed in and we were willing to risk sort of everything for it," Bloom said. "It probably has something to do with the fact that we were really young and naive, and we were willing to put 100 percent of our lives into it. So yeah, we really believed in it, but it could've easily crashed and burned."
The needle-pegging fuzz won over many critics and raised expectations. Perhaps it wasn't what Blumberg had in mind. While the band waited to record its follow-up, he was tinkering with his personal project, Hebronix. Ultimately, Yuck took a backseat and Blumberg left the band. In an interview a month after the breakup was announced in 2013, Blumberg described his departure as "the way that Max and I can best progress."
There's more to it than that, of course, but Bloom's not spilling.
"There's definitely a lot more that happened during that time, but a lot of that I probably don't want to talk about," he said. "I guess there was a lot of stuff that he wanted to do and I guess he couldn't commit at the end of the day. So we decided to carry on. That's the most simplistic way of talking about it."
While Blumberg had written the lyrics and come up with the vocal line, the songs themselves were Bloom's. Producer Chris Coady (Smith Westerns, Beach House) helped them record Glow & Behold (Mercury Records, Sept. 2013), but it wasn't a pleasant process.
For Stranger Things, Yuck members returned to the same flat where they recorded their first album and self-produced it.
"The second album was a very difficult album to make for a number of reasons, but I'm still extremely proud of it. This record I wanted just to learn from everything that we had done in the past," Bloom said. "It wasn't easy working with a producer, so I just wanted to make an album that was completely on our terms and from the heart, essentially, and that's what I feel like I've done."
He hinted at a sense of frustration with the last album's level of production, but didn't want to get into it.
"I don't really like thinking about the past," Bloom said.
"I just wanted to make an album's worth of really fun songs that would be easily translatable when performing them live, just so that we don't have to make any sacrifices," he added. "When you get carried away in the studio it's quite frustrating that you can't bring that to the stage ... and I disagree on every level with backing tracks."
Yuck's sound has evolved since that first album, even though it's always been Bloom writing the music—that's the nature of Bloom's muse, which finds it hard to sit still, and explains how alt-rock gave way to Glow & Behold's shoegaze vibe and the lively power/psych-pop flavors of Stranger Things.
"That's just the way I make albums," Bloom said. "I enjoy listening to albums that take you on a journey and sort of explore different avenues rather than just listening to an album that's just sort of the same tone from start to finish. So I guess that's just the path that things naturally took."