Two years after the exodus of lead singer Daniel Blumberg, Yuck is left struggling to redefine itself. While half the charm of the band’s self-titled debut rested on the album’s earnest nostalgia for ’90s indie acts like Dinosaur Jr. and My Bloody Valentine, Yuck’s recent releases with new frontman Max Bloom ape such influences less successfully; what mimetic, if juvenile, appeal Yuck possessed on their freshman effort, manifest here as a failure to mature.
Stranger Things is often little more than a poor imitation of the band’s earlier sound. The opening track, “Hold Me Closer,” with its distorted vocals and affected lo-fi production, inevitably conjures similar songs from their debut, such as “The Wall.” Other tracks, like “Hearts in Motion,” explore new territory on Yuck’s Wheel of Musical Impressions, breaking out the repetitive guitar and major-chord progressions redolent of such early-2000s pop-punk bands like Blink-182 and Good Charlotte. “Love changes like the season,” Blooms sings; it’s too bad Yuck’s approach hasn’t similarly evolved over time.
When Yuck isn’t repackaging indie strategies of portraying authenticity through intentionally gritty production, they’re doing so lyrically. The title track boasts a pre-chorus thoughtfully composed of the thrice-repeated phrase, “I hate myself.” Beyond being ripped straight from Nirvana, another band whose influence Yuck wears all too carelessly on its sleeve, the phrase captures the inescapable laziness of an album papier-mâchéd from ’90s and 2000s alt-rock clichés.
Rather than work to create emotional complexity through intricate or unexpected lyrics that complement their musical accompaniment, Yuck’s approach relies on placing a bromide of self-loathing over a pretty melody. Such contrived profundity is little more than a sleight of hand: While the juxtaposition of upbeat music and melancholic lyrics has succeeded for artists from the Beatles to David Bowie, here such tactics, amid music that betrays so little originality, render these hackneyed emotional confessions nothing more than indulgent.
Which isn’t to say that Stranger Things doesn’t have its pleasures. On songs like “Like a Moth” and “I’m Ok,” the guitar will reliably and unobtrusively enter at the close of a vocal phrase, easing the transition between lines like “Not someone to rely on” and “Got no shoulder to cry on.” “Yr Face,” the album’s closer and perhaps its most uncharacteristic song, provides fodder for a rare harmony, slowing down Yuck’s usual frenetic pace and yielding a simpler, deliberate love song that supports itself of its own volition, rather than its resemblance to other music.