Today is Brent Cowles’ lucky day, because I’m about to tell him how to make an undeniably killer follow up to his recently released full length, Cards With Cheats.
Cowles, better known as the driving force behind You Me and Apollo, should first sit back, listen to his new album, and take inventory of all the things he’s got going for him.
Above all, he’s got a beautiful voice that somehow manages to evoke Patsy Cline and Ryan Adams in the same breath. Not only is the quality of his voice far above average, but the ways in which he utilizes it are refreshingly sophisticated and intelligent (see the pseudo-organ effect he achieves on “Coming Home In A Coffin” and “Light In On Fire”).
Then there’s his style of arrangement and production. “Coffin” moves from sentimental folk to near cock-rock with not only ease but swagger to boot. “A Pearl” features such deft manipulation of meter that the disparate sections of the song come together to form a flowing, natural whole where they could have been stilted and forced if he weren’t as talented.
On a more macro level, the album features grand gestures that are given tremendous gravity by the contrasting hushed moments of the record. And on top of it all, there’s an element of freakiness to the sound of this record that’s just plain cool. The guitar work on “Rob the Cheat” is slinky and creepy, falling somewhere between Soundgarden and Modest Mouse (a fact that tickles me, personally, as I never thought I’d get the opportunity to write a sentence containing both of those bands’ names).
Cowles should listen to his new record, hear all of these tremendous strengths, and gain a great confidence from them, because the biggest thing that holds the record back is a lack of confidence.
In terms of emotional content, what I hear on this album is an artist who is all too comfortable naming his own faults and shortcomings, highlighting the darker side of things without actually illuminating them, and romanticizing liars and cheats.
To be frank, I don’t buy it. The musician that created this music is obviously intelligent, imaginative, and daring, and his next move should be not only owning up to that talent, but flaunting it. Tracks like “The Devil Inside” and “Ink On Paper” offer brief glimpses of a version of You Me and Apollo that maintains a raspy, cockeyed approach to traditional harmony while pushing forward out of the Rock/Folk mold. Those are some of the most exciting moments on this record… there should be more of them. Add in a few more hooky melodies and substitute the vibe of self-indictment with a touch of Costello’s acerbic finger pointing, and You Me and Apollo just might take over the Indie world.
Then again, another approach that might yield the same result could be for Cowles to completely forget everything I just said and keep going on the path he’s currently on, cause damn, the guy’s close to a slam dunk anyway.