Yuck’s self-titled debut arrived at a curious time. The last few years have seen guitar-driven ’90s alt-rock icons like Pavement, Dinosaur Jr, Guided By Voices and My Bloody Valentine reform for comeback tours and even albums in certain cases, flooding the market with heavily-distorted nostalgia. Standing out as a “new” band in that genre isn’t an easy task when going up against the returning titans of indie rock, but Yuck was able to establish a distinct, youthful take on some very familiar ideas.
The group was originally led by singer and guitarist Daniel Blumberg, a wiry, mop-headed stage presence with a wistful voice and a knack for uncorking sweltering solos. Despite Yuck’s success, the band announced in April 2013 (via a Facebook post) that Blumberg would be leaving the band to pursue other solo projects. The remaining members put a positive spin on it—”New music, new tour dates, and bigger afros will be coming very soon,” they wrote in their message—but it’s hard to not view Blumberg’s departure as a major loss for the group. While Yuck has been busy recording its second album, Blumberg has been busy himself working on his latest project, Hebronix, which feels like a natural extension of his work with Yuck.

Unreal is undoubtedly much more polished than the Yuck album. Blumberg has left the lo-fi world behind and gives the listener a more personal and intimate listening experience here. He’s evolved as a composer and lyricist, allowing him to explore more complex sounds and longer song structures. The record sees Blumberg venturing into a more pop direction as opposed to the fuzzy, reverb-filled sound that he’s known for.
Unreal is a mixture of floating soundscapes and melodic arrangements that make you want to drift off into whatever mournful, cloud-filled dimension Blumberg traveled into to write these songs. In addition to expanding his mind, Blumberg has expanded his musical palette as well. He uses a wider range of instruments here including pianos, flutes, synths and even string arrangements that often provide a moving, melancholy touch. The tone of Unreal is unclear with the opening track “Unliving.” It starts off with a slow and reluctant vocal part from Blumberg accompanied by a dragging acoustic guitar strum. The track then builds to a dual guitar-riff that leads into a bursting upbeat crash, before gradually making its way back down to a softer tone before rising one last time. Most of the tracks have a similar rise-and-fall, push-and-pull pattern to them.
In “Viral,” Blumberg starts off with some light guitar that becomes surrounded in swirling, ambient synths. He continues to add layers of each instrument that eventually leads into a crystalline guitar part, before ending with a soothing string arrangement. The album has an easy-going pace to it, opening up a little more with each graceful transition and quiet revelation. With Unreal, Blumberg continues to distance himself from his 1990s indie rock revivalist identity and create a sound that’s entirely his own. It’s an easy album to get lost in.