[Album Review] Cousins- The Halls of Wickwire
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by Mark Anthony Brennan
cousins

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Release Date: May 13th, 2014
Label: Hand Drawn Dracula

It has the energy of punk, the distortion of noise pop and the angst of grunge. Such is the sound of Cousins, reputedly Halifax’s hardest-working band. And yet a listen to their latest release The Halls of Wickwire reveals more complexity than punk, more muscle than noise pop, and it offers more hope than grunge ever could.  The fact is Cousins carve out their own niche, creating their unique way of communicating through the medium of modern music. They are painfully aware that this ugly world can drag you down, but their music makes you jump up and yell back in defiance.

“Phone” starts things off in high gear. Aaron Mangle lays an alluring jumble of guitar distortion over an insistent throbbing beat. His cooing falsetto provides a counterpoint to the pulsating drone – it lifts you up from the drudgery of modern life and carries you off. If only all modern rock could be this good.

If the first track sets the bar then the rest of the album does not disappoint. After a couple of tracks along the same vein as “Phone” (and equally powerful) the fourth track “At Odds” offers a change of pace. The twangy bass line and echoing vocals lead us to believe that we are in David Lynch’s neck of the woods, but then the chorus explodes with clanging guitars and thundering drums and we realize that maybe we aren’t in Twin Peaks after all. Fine stuff.

Not all the songs are completely successful, however.  In “Death Man” Mangle sings the part of a man warning that he will only bring death, while drummer Leigh Dotey sings the part of the woman offering love. Mangle’s part, which sounds like early Black Sabbath, sharply contrasts Dotey’s sweet, poppy reply. The two parts fail to mesh and the entire song is so disjointed that no amount of sonic glue can hold it together. The album’s final track “Singing” is a slow ballad, the lyrics of which make reference to the song itself. The tune lacks the melodic punch of the rest of the album, and its self-referential nature turns it in on itself, alienating the listener. A bit of a downer to end such lively set of songs.

The record’s two missteps are but a minor blemish. This may be a ragged and shambolic affair but it is a Canadian lo-fi classic. It has been said that Halifax is noted for both its folk tradition and its noise scene, and that Cousins represents the best of both these worlds. This is true in more ways than one – they eschew any hippie ideal of a world of peace and love, but at the same time reject pure nihilism in favour of guarded optimism. Kinda restores your faith in the power of music. Maybe rock and roll can save us after all.