After shifting personnel with some regularity since their debut, Cymbals Eat Guitars' fourth LP finds leader and main songwriter Joseph D'Agostino the sole remaining original member. Their sound seems to be largely under his sway, though, as the band continues to offer vibrant, guitar-centric tunes with a certain amount of college rock and '90s indie flavor on Pretty Years. It's their first to be produced by John Congleton (St. Vincent, Explosions in the Sky), who guides songs ranging from "Mallwalking," a daydreamy entry with percussion, piano, manipulated pitches, and distorted effects, to the pure punk of "Beam." The latter is two minutes of raucous, throat-shredding angst ("Not the man that I hoped/That's all right, no one knows"). Falling somewhere in between, "Wish" has bubbly keyboards and saxophone in addition to a rhythm section. The sax is soon unleashed over the song's soul-flavored groove for an impulsive feel that marks much of the album. Throughout, D'Agostino's distinctive, barking delivery ties it all together, along with lyrics that seem aware of getting a little older and maybe wiser, with lines like "Can't make it matter more/My life is sliding by." "Have a Heart" is uptempo but reflective, with shimmering guitars and the admission that "Empathy, it never came so naturally 'til I met you." Fans needn't worry that the group's vitality has faded, however. If anything, it takes advantage of a broader palette as Cymbals Eat Guitars continue to dip into more styles without losing their warped, crunchy center.
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AllMusic Review by Marcy Donelson