Stagnation is a funny thing. Despite its negative connotation, I know plenty of people who reached a certain point and that was pretty much it for them. They live out their days blissfully ignorant to what may have been. It certainly happens for bands who find a sound that sells well. That refusal to push yourself outside of a comfort zone or beyond what is thought possible is what separates the good from the great. On their new album, Cousin Dud swings for the fences, lashing out at their current station in the musical hierarchy.
I’ve been listening to Cousin Dud for a few years now, having been invited to a show at the Viaduct Theater (now known as Constellation) to check them out. I didn’t really get it when I saw them, but I listened to their album a few times and figured out that they’re pretty much a Springsteen-type band: middle class working types singing about real world problems in a style very much traditional Americana.
Last year’s The Faded was a great 7-track record that touched on the band’s potential, but that was just an amuse-bouche for the nearly 80-minute feast that is Sad Moments In Modern Music. Not only is every single facet of the band at its pinnacle here, but the 80 minutes go by so fast, with so many changes in style, that you’ll want to listen again right away.
They had a song with Wilco in the title last year, so that’s lan obvious influence here (as is The National, who I found out lead singer Matt Carmichael is a big fan of before one of their sets at Chicago Theatre last year), but they touch on a ton of other stuff. Everything from Harvest-era Neil Young to Thin Lizzy, alt country/indie rock/folk…they hit each genre with the kind of precision that makes you think they’re specialists in everything they do.
The lyrics on this album are easily the best Cousin Dud have recorded thus far. The opening phrase of the album gets us off on an antagonistic note: “Oh we’re all in this together, so at least lie and say you are my friend.” These words are joined by a cavalcade of sounds that nods to Weezer and Nada Surf, but ultimately Yankee Hotel Foxtrot.
Much, much later Carmichael sings on “Spring Song,” “If life is so precious why don’t the sun burn a hole in your eyes and why don’t the rivers change course when you cry? Spring, man you fell for the lie.” That line runs right into one of many great guitar solos on the record, each one fitting perfectly with the pieces around it.
Sad Moments In Music History is currently available to stream on Cousin Dud’s Bandcamp page. It’s worth listening all the way through (multiple times), and I hope it finds a wider audience than their previous works.
You can check out Matt Carmichael and Dan Schuld playing some solo tunes tonight, September 3rd, at Jerry’s Sandwiches (1938 W Division) in Chicago.