Yuck’s particular brand of ‘90s revivalism has never really felt like appropriation. There have been some bullseyes and a few misfires over the course of their career up to this point, but, despite borrowing a lot from the indie-rock aesthetic of the 20th century’s last decade, they’ve made all of it sound their own. Stranger Things may just be their strongest statement yet.
Ultimately, Yuck’s greatest strength is churning out fuzzed-out rock songs with outright pop melodies. “Hold Me Closer” gets things started off with simple urgency. Frontman Max Bloom has his voice drenched in distortion, but the melody he sings with it is one that can be stuck in your head for days. The same goes for the track immediately following it, “Cannonball.” Yuck seem to always hit it out of the park whenever they decide to churn out an upbeat track.
For all their comparisons to bands like Pavement, Built to Spill and Dinosaur Jr, there’s something about Yuck’s sound that seems a little more immediate and penetrable than any of those groups. It’s not to say they’re better—just different. Where their ‘90s forebears were obsessed with detachment from traditional punk, rock in general and inwardly focused lyrics, Yuck seems unafraid of any of that. Outside of “Here,” Pavement wasn’t really writing songs like “Like a Moth” until Terror Twilight. Yuck are fine with being a rock band in a way those earlier bands weren’t: namely, by laying it all bare even when a cloud of distortion hides it.
Stranger Things solidifies even further how much they cherish the ideal of melody. The more appropriate comparison these days is Teenage Fanclub or Big Star. The entire mid-section of the record is filled with the sort of summer-day rock and roll that those bands knew best. Like Teenage Fanclub, Yuck realize there’s something mystical and powerful about pairing distortion with crystalline power pop.
It’s also worth noting they’ve returned to their debut’s emphasis on riffage. If you were somewhat disappointed by Glow & Behold’s more atmospheric sound, Stranger Things should encourage you: they haven’t forgotten how to write a hook. “Hearts in Motion” boasts a central, ringing riff surrounded by guitars ascending and descending that stands up to any of the best tracks on their debut. Alternatively, if Glow & Behold was your total cup of tea, the last three songs here master that sound even better than what came before on their sophomore release. They took the best of their first and second albums and made something even fresher this time around.
Yuck is a testament to the idea that music doesn’t need to be incredibly innovative to be original. They’re playing by the rules of catchy rock choruses as handed down by some of the more acclaimed ‘90s bands, but their confidence allows it all to sound like their own. Stranger Things isn’t a Pavement, Teenage Fanclub or Built to Spill record because it’s a Yuck record. Now, more than ever, it’d be bizarre to get that confused.