There’s a scene in Reality Bites where, after skipping town, Ethan Hawke picks up the phone to call Winona Ryder, the girl he so obviously loves but can’t muster the courage to speak to when she picks up on the other end. U2’s “All I Want Is You” plays in the background, with Bono’s wails perfectly synched for optimal emotional impact. But the song “Suck” by British newcomers Yuck—with its slide guitar pining over lines like “I’ve had enough of being young and free/everybody has a mild crucifixion/I am sorry you became my addiction”—would work just as well. In fact, a lot of the Reality Bites soundtrack could be replaced with Yuck’s self-titled debut, seamlessly swapping the feedback-sunken “Rubber” for Dinosaur Jr.’s “Turnip Farm,” the rom-com ready “Georgia” for Juliana Hatfield Three’s “Spin the Bottle,” and the guitar pop gem “The Wall” for Crowded House’s “Locked Out.”
In other words, Yuck plays like a Gen X-defining mixtape, taking cues from seemingly every major player in 90s college radio and masterfully combining them in to the ultimate Columbia House mail-order combo: Pavement, The Smashing Pumpkins, J. Mascis, The Lemonheads, Yo La Tengo, et al. Weird, considering that 20-year-old frontman Daniel Blumberg was two when Slanted and Enchanted was released, four when Reality Bites hit theaters, and 15 when his first band, Cajun Dance Party, signed to XL Records, the former suggesting that there might be more springing from his own creativity than a cynic would suspect, the latter suggesting that his ear for rooting melody out of distortion and fuzz isn’t an accident.
Part of the album’s charm, of course, is of circumstance. It comes in the days of Archers of Loaf and Guided by Voices reunions, a flannel resurgence, and Portlandia—a time when the 90s are held in high regard and before the backlash to nostalgia has fully hit. It’s to the band’s credit, though, that within the given framework they encapsulate such a wide swath of song structures, fidelity and vocal shades that the album avoids sheer derivativeness. It’s to the extent that, at first, the songs don’t even sound like they’re coming from the same band. Crunchy guitars and effects pedals aside, the grungily languid and loud “Operation” has little in common with the eager boy-girl harmonies on “Georgia,” the quietly soul-crushing “Suicide Policeman,” or the dreamy melt of “Stutter,” leaving Yuck sounding inspired and confident, never willing to fake lazy or disengaged—not even for nostalgia’s sake.