Written by Travis Shosa
This review was originally written for COUNTERZINE on January 9, 2020. It has been re-edited and adapted for Stamens/Pistils/Parties.
Indie rock is alive and well in the modern day. But for many of us, the styles of indie and alternative rock we loved in past decades have fallen out of public favor regarding the new folks doing it. It’s not to say that what’s hip now is without merit, and it’s not to say that the stuff that worked in the ’90s doesn’t work today: quite the contrary. Liverpool rock band COW wears their influences on their sleeves, and they do it with confidence earned through superb songwriting and a potent mix of bitterness and longing channeled through muscular musicianship.
COW is not a particularly happy band: songs such as the EP’s namesake and “Sick and Tired of Being Lonely” imply right in their titles a desperate sadness that only proves more hopelessly bleak when considering the lyrical topics at hand. “All My Friends Are Dead to Me” is nearly amusing in how petty it initially comes across. You can take “All my friends are dead to me / They’ve all got families / And I’ve got no one” one way, but considering the situation where everyone you could loosely call a friend has people who are ultimately more important to them than you is heartbreaking. The song’s not necessarily outwardly depressive in its sound either: the anthemic chorus is slightly cheeky, like someone attempting to mask their pain by sloppily patching up leaks of pain with humor.
“Sick and Tired of Being Lonely” is a continuation of the meditation on isolation introduced by the title track that directly acknowledges and wrestles with suicidal thoughts: “Yeah, I really started thinking about dying again / It really started playing on my mind, my friend / It really started fucking up my long term goals.” The mask is peeled back further on this one: the tone more somber, the melody more melancholy, and lacking in an eruptive, cathartic emotional release. It sits with sadness consistently because sadness never really goes away.
“A Blank Canvas for Weirdness” is a Queens of the Stone Age song. Not literally: Homme did not write it, but he might as well have. Down from the song’s structure and sound to even the vocal inflections and song title, it has QOTSA written all over it. There are worse bands to emulate, and the band doesn’t prove inferior in the stoner rock wheelhouse. It feels slightly out of place here, but it’s a strong track.
Eight-minute closer “Happy Birthday” steals the show, featuring one of the noisiest, loudest, and most evocative guitar solos of recent memory, equal to the best from bands such as Dinosaur Jr. and Built to Spill. It’s a soul-wrenching cry of agony forcibly smashing its way through emotional repression: chaotic, messy, and beautiful. Write a QOTSA song, as long it’s a good QOTSA song. Channel Mascis and Martsch, as long as you can equal them on the axe. All My Friends Are Dead to Me incites a visceral, emotional response. That never goes out of style.
Travis Shosa is the founder and editor-in-chief of Stamens/Pistils/Parties. Formerly the runner of COUNTERZINE, he has bylines at Pitchfork, The Alternative, and Post-Trash among others.
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