Cousins - The Halls of Wickwire
Released May 13, 2014
By Charlie Dims
There's one thing for certain: the garage band duo Cousins doesn't play around. In a world where musicians are constantly expected to give the humble, I-can't-believe-people-like-my-stuff response when it comes to the power of their music, Cousins doesn't pull punches. Straight on their press release for The Halls of Wickwire, the duo's latest LP, the band writes: "This record will change your life if you let it." It's a bold statement, especially one coming from a band just on their third full-length album, but this isn't really a band that cares about conformity. As they sing in the album's eighth song Mess, "I won't play by no one's rules." And while life-changing may be subjective, there is one thing that this album has: Life. Straight from the opening Phone, we go into something that's a mix of freedom and distance. With the combination of the constant beat from the drums and the softness of Leigh Dotey's vocals as she sings "I'm talking on the phone with you", one could almost mistake this as a breezy summer beat, something to play as the windows are rolled down on a blue-sky day. However, if you stay with the song a little longer, once Aaron Mangle's heavier vocals and guitar parts come in, it transforms from something light and airy to a darker, more daring piece, with a touch of sweetness audible in the background.
From here, it's easy to see that listeners are not just going through an album, but something deeper. Though Cousins have a certain punk/rebel quality to their sound, they use their album not in the modern-day meaning (a collection of recently finished tracks), but in the traditional way, as a complete story. As the songs progress, the atmosphere becomes darker. There's a struggle to the songs, a quality that only comes through lived experience. As we go through the tracks, the climax ultimately comes from Mess. As they sing, "There's no recipe, nor a guide/In this life." It's exemplary of the album as a whole. Life is messy and The Halls of Wickwire doesn't provide easy answers, if any answers at all. But what it does do, with a straightforward and powerful sound, is provide a discussion for the darker stuff. Whether it be the festering feelings of loneliness, taking the risk of loving again, internal and external conflicts, emotional emptiness, or watching the one you love pick someone else, this album goes for it.
That's not to say that this is a bummer record. Like all good journeys, there are highs and lows. For every Death Man or Mess, there's a fun, energetic song like Body or What's Your Name. The final two songs, Ocean and Singing, end the album in a slower, more thoughtful place. They are a chance to catch your breath, to reflect on what came before them.
Clocking in at under 35 minutes, The Halls of Wickwire isn't a long album, which makes the ending all the more unexpected. However, like all good albums, this one leaves you with just that slight hunger of wanting to hear more. Though the final track Singing starts off with, "This is the last time we'll play this song", we really hope it isn't.