Thursday, December 8, 2011

EP review: Cousins - 'Axthoxy'

By Sasha Geffen

Of all the "it" bands of a given year, there remains the question of who will last and who will drop away into obscurity after an album or two. No matter how beloved a record may be by all the right publications, it takes a special kind of inertia to become a mainstay in people's music libraries. How many "best new bands" of 2005 can you remember? As something of a digital hoarder, I keep all those records--deep in the recesses of an external hard drive, without playing them for years, but I keep them. And it's always interesting to go back and see how certain glowing criticisms of the past falter with the ongoing course of music history. That oddly tribal mid-decade neo-noise, for example, was a turn I never liked despite all the praise it garnered from the big players in underground music journalism. I may have not been an expert, but I think I was right. No one listens to Wilderness anymore. They weren't good. Noise is a hard genre to pin down. You need to build momentum with texture, bare weight, and punctuation rather than traditional songcraft. Most who attempt it let their progressions hang in stale air, hoping their effects pedals will be enough to carry them through. Then there are the bands who get it--bands who enter the reverbed fray with purpose and intelligence. Cousins? They get it.

This emergent Chicago/Milwaukee four-piece get that to build a true state of hypnosis takes patience--that sometimes a single chord, if propelled correctly, can fill more space than a whole hook. The opening whallop of a track "a" demonstrates a spectacular sense of pacing as it turns on its axis, building a full and spacious revolving drone. Two gently chanted lines fall in the background as a new animal swells. A quick look at Cousins' lyrics page reveals that they're based on a Eugene O'Neill play. In fact, the lyrics to each song are prefaced by a literary quote of some variety--some longer than the lyrics themselves. These intellectually-sourced snippets of text could stand alone as prose poems, but somehow work even better draped in echoes beyond recognition, discovered only when the work of investigating them is done. 

Anyone who's listened to early '90s shoegaze and no-wave will recognize the shapes of those echoes. Cousins sources textures from recognizable places--the Sonic Youth, Slint, Slowdive roster, with an offhand Dinosaur Jr. vocal delivery thrown in for good measure. But they aren't here to reminisce. They've come to reassemble those artifacts with enough brains and brawn to make them their own. 

The Axthoxy EP emerges as an exciting debut from a new band who understands how to play within their genre from the start. I can't wait to see how they'll evolve their sources. 

1 comment:

  1. Great article, I agree with your comments on the fact that a lot of 'big' bands often don't have a lot of staying power.

    Definitely interested checking out this band though, thanks for sharing.