Music Blog – 17/03/2017 Releases – The Cousins and Conor Oberst

I’m going to start this week’s blog with a confession – the Barenaked Ladies are my all time favourite band. Having said that, I’m not one of these “they can do no wrong” fanboys and I am more than capable of giving criticism when it is due – for example the last 2 albums have been solid records but both feel rather “safe” and middle of the road.

A record that is definitely not “safe” is Rattlesnake Love, the eclectic new album by The Cousins, comprising BNL keyboard player Kevin Hearn and his real-life cousin Harland Williams – the actor and comedian who is probably best known to us in the U.K. as the hitchhiker from There’s Something About Mary:

The Cousins are so diverse that they almost come over like Ween’s clean living, nerdy little brother. It lacks the drug-fuelled antics and political incorrectness that Dean and Gene Ween bring to the party, but both duos have the same confidence in experimentation and the ability to write great tunes. No two songs sound the same, from the 80s tinged indie pop of the opener “Behind The Glass”; to the experimental  drum-led title track; to the 1950s influenced garage/surf rock of “Bikini Baby Breakdown”; to the country/folk influenced “You Can Lie” (with added accordion), to the full-on electro-pop of “Power Pound” and “Attention Earthlings”. It’s also one of those albums where you find something new on every listen like an unusual lyric, or a new instruments. 

The biggest risks of creating such a diverse album are that individual tracks might not work, or that the album might sound disjointed and that the songs might sound out of place next to those either side of it in the track listing. Neither of these ring true in this case (although a couple of the track are slow burners) and as a full album it feels like a proper work of art. It also doesn’t take itself too seriously – there are dashes of humour throughout the lyrics and this, together with the experimentation and diversity in the music, results in an interesting and fun listen.

Time for my second confession. Last year, ex-Bright Eyes main man Conor Oberst released “Ruminations”, a striped down and heartfelt collection of songs – just Oberst accompanied by acoustic guitar or piano (with a little harmonica). Critics loved it and just about everyone on a Forum I post on claimed it was their album of the year. However, I found it a bit flat and lacking something. I couldn’t quite put my finger on what was missing though – it was well written, well performed and produced, and the songs were heartfelt. It should have been perfect, but it wasn’t. I’m not saying I didn’t enjoy the album, I thought it was very good and “A Little Uncanny” is one of my favourite songs of 2016, but it just didn’t “hit the spot” with me in the same way as it seemed to with everyone else!

On Friday I found out what was missing – the full band treatment. You see, on Friday Oberst released the follow-up Salutations, which contains full-band reworking of the songs on Ruminations, together with 7 new tracks, and it’s brilliant. The songs from Ruminations have so much depth and it really makes them come alive. The differences made by the full band vary with some being very subtle (Tachycardia), some adding a bit of sparkle in all the right places (Gossamer Thin) and some making a big difference to the song (Counting Sheep). I’ve created a Playlist that compares the Ruminations and Salutations versions side by side for you to see the differences.

Of the new tracks, two stand out for me, and they are the 2 that are furthest removed from the Ruminations songs – “Napalm” and “Anytime Soon”. “Napalm” is much more raucous than anything else on the album, almost chaotic and reminds me of American folk meets The Libertines, for want of a better comparison, with its uneven tempo and Oberst’s Doherty-Esque drawl. “Anytime Soon” is very much in the mould of a familiar Oberst-penned folk tinged indie-rock track, but with a Southern Rock influence throughout. These new songs provide something a little bit different to the reworked tracks, lyrically less serious and a little more upbeat and really work in pulling it all together.

I’ve added “Behind the Glass” and “Napalm” to the playlist, and would love it if you’d like my Facebook page for notifications when the blog is updated!

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