erasing clouds

Song Reviews: Thad Cockrell, Death Cab for Cutie, Mates of State

by steve hanson

Thad Cockrell, "Warmth and Beauty"

{From Faithless: Outrospective (YepRoc), to be released September 23}

Yes, we all miss Whiskeytown. They one of the best so-called bands, and have given rise to several successful careers for its members. And anyone that has ever spoken with Ryan Adams knows he is one of the nicest people out there. But the drugs...they just make him unstable. Hence the anger towards pricks who shout "Summer of 68" at his shows. And he is, in my opinion, a punk rocker. I know people will argue with that, but its the truth. Live with it. Thad Cockrell is essentially Ryan Adams' antithesis: a clean voiced, well behaved musician from North Carolina that sounds a whole helluva lot like Ryan Adams. And he's ever so more likable. As his press release states, and any article written about him will quote, "There's no alt in his country."

"Warmth and Beauty" is a truly traditional country song, elementally simple and pure. From drums to slide guitar, the composition and production are amazingly complimentary to the singing and its lyrics. One of things that makes Whiskeytown's music, and any good country act, so timeless is its simplicity and the pain behind the lyrics. Thad Cockrell also has those traits, creating music that does not date itself. For all the similarities, and shared musicians, between Whiskeytown and Thad Cockrell, "Warmth and Beauty" follows a much more conservative path than Ryan Adams and gang took, which could make it much less enjoyable for those who prefer the more raucous flavors of country. But the music still makes you long for a some cold beers, sitting on front porch, on a summer night in small town America. And when you're drunk, singing along, it will all somehow sound the same. Alas, the true meaning of a timeless song.

Death Cab for Cutie, "The New Year"

{From Transatlanticism (Barsuk), to be released October 7}

Usually, album titles are of little use in describing the music contained within. Transatlanticism acts more as a warning, perhaps, of the nature of its songs. The first single on Death Cab's new CD, out October 7th, is difficult to review without hearing the entire album and seeing how it fits into the entirety. Additionally, its structure plays more like a prelude for the album, with a 1-1-2-1 structure. And for the Death Cab fan's 1 is not a good number. From the title, I gather a British influence caused the new sounds found in "The New Year". Perhaps frontman Ben Gibbard found a girlfriend over there, and he's trying to impress her. Essentially, part one of the song is a guitar strummed for counts one and two, and then left to sustain for 6 counts, with backbeats from the drummer. This is quite a departure from their prior albums, and may scare some longtime fans away. However, the "2" part of the song remains true to the classic Death Cab formula of prominent drums and vocals, with less emphasis on guitars. Despite the oddities of the song, I withhold final judgment until I hear the entire album.

Mates of State, "Ha Ha"

{From Team Boo (Polyvinyl, to be released September 14}

Perhaps because of Captain and Tenille, the major labels lack any real desire for a keyboardist/ drummer duo. However, Mates of State don't quite fall into the airport-hotel-lounge-act genre. And to boot, their record label, Polyvinyl (Rainer Maria, Braid) has more web-savvy then ANY of the majors. All of their new releases are not only used as a Flash ad before entering their site, they stream several songs from the new album...all weeks before it's released.

"Ha Ha" has a bit more excitement then the rest of the album, and is also a little frightening, in a scary clown kind of way. When one plays the organ, eventually you sound like the damn circus. And that just creeps me out. Nevertheless, I loved this song when I heard them play on their last tour. And its sounds even better on the album. From the press materials, it sounds like the studio they used captured their sound more favorably than in the past. For any people who have not heard Mates of State before, this first single off their album dutifully reflects their music. It shows just how much sound only two instruments, and two singers can produce. With dueling vocals, dueling instruments, complex structures and amazing harmonies, MOS are one of the best live acts out there. And without a doubt, their latest album will not disappoint.

Issue 15, September 2003

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