Pretty Years, the wildly ambitious fourth LP for Cymbals Eat Guitars, is easily the band's most sonically enigmatic and most rewarding album yet. Their trademark cacophonic guitar rock and innate propulsion are still abundant, but they're buttressed by raucous synth and keyboard lines, and an extemporaneous saxophone performance, which enrich when they could easily clutter these songs. The band also worked more quickly and efficiently than they had in the past, facilitated by years on the road in which they've played close to a thousand shows, which rendered them a tight, fully-oiled machine in the studio.
Opener "Finally" shimmers with complex beauty, leading into the sweet rush of "Have a Heart," which finds lead singer and guitarist Joseph D'Agostino singing, "I'm so out of sync / And you're out of sync with me," which could well be a mantra for the visceral appeal of this superb record. The entire album is rife with electrified, flashbulb moments – "4th of July, Philadelphia (Sandy)" conveys the madness of life on the road, exhibiting D'Agostino's uncanny ability to transform minutiae into profundity. This skill is evident in spades on the record's centerpiece and opus, the disarmingly vulnerable "Dancing Days." The song also exhibits the contributions of bassist/backing vocalist Matt Whipple, and slyly invokes the album's title in its magisterial chorus, as D'Agostino contritely croons, "Goodbye to my pretty years."
And indeed, Pretty Years is a roller coaster ride, both lyrically and sonically, that encompasses what it's like to be alive and in the moment. But ultimately, this is an album that keenly captures the magic and loss attendant to living life wide-eyed, and hints that these "pretty years" may portend even prettier ones to come.