Cormorant, narrative and you.

Writing is hard.

And, the above seems like something of an indulgence. I can't however, express my feelings another way - it was hard to put together the drive to establish another article. I have changed subject, means and delivery multiple times, so I hope his works.

Cormorant are an awesome band, to start with - and Dwellings is one of those albums I would have placed in my contender for 2011's Release of the year. Let's get those minor details out of the way; so we know where I stand. It's a seamless work of Progressive Heavy Metal and hits like a truck ... if the truck was a perfect hybrid mixture of the 1970 and 1990's made by an impressively talented collective of auto-autists. However, my review of the actual album will have to wait, this post is a little more obsessive over a detail.

I had the fortune of reading a rather intriguing interview of Cormorant that I'll link later, which was both intriguing both in said and unsaid terms. There was valuable insight into the band's tastes through the opinions of member Arthur Von Nagel, the conclusions left me with much to consider as to the band's latest work and music in general .In between references to his history, upbringing and inspiration; his choice of musical passions and his band members, he expressed a succinct and painful concern for his job future - without a college degree and hoping the liquidation papers never rolled in.

Those types of concerns don't get acknowledged enough by all kinds of people, even those whom have a home, a family, a set of economic responsibilities. They change us. They shape us. Those responsibilities become as binding as the need for companionship or escape from routine for our sanity. For too many, accepting those is the 'end' of their credibility and where selling out becomes a concern. Thankfully, this is never uniformly true - embracing our collective need for some kind of finance can also strengthen an artist. Commercial does exist, it's too often sidelined, disrespected or ignored and honestly, I think Cormorant would not be the same band without it.

With all of that; we come to Unearthly Dreamings. This song.

The business of this post won't actually be to deconstruct the song or talk about why I consider it brilliant per se - so let's get the important details set first. Listen to it, The Entire Thing. Right, now that we have done that. The Interview.

Now, there will be spoilers below, since I'd rather discuss the content of the song; do heed this.

Unearthy Dreaming's as a song concerns the ill-fated voyage of the Soviet Cosmonaut Vladimir Komarov, whom died as a result of mismanagement and gross negligence associated with the Soviet space program when his Soyuz 1 vessel crashed after re-entry on April 24, 1967. He died having taken every conceivable action to right the difficult circumstances he found himself in - The Solar Panels failed, leaving Komarov underpowered and without access to navigation systems as well as faulty HF equipment. Despite these factors, the Cosmonaut was able to right the capsule and attempt re-entry, despite the ion engine system designed to assist with this also failing. On his nineteenth orbit, he successfully re-entered the Earth's atmosphere - no small feat for a Man locked in a deathtrap consistently transmitting incomplete or incorrect safety information.

It was at this late stage, he died.

The parachutes failed and the Soyuz 1 crashed into the ground, creating a mess from which few remains could be collected.

Rather anticlimactic, really.

With the right execution, this is potentially powerful stuff - the perfect nexus for a stunning Metal song which delivers a series of aimed, weighted and determined body-blows to the listener. The Cosmonaut's life is retold in reverse order, a sonorous (although compelling) of lyrical presentation. The unconfirmed (but touching) references to Yuri Gagarin aka “You cannot die in my stead,” whom Komarov felt determined to protect; the recordings from his last moments used as intro/outro, “Killers all!” he cried,, the story is clearly established, and I think effectively to boot. His death and the effects, highlighted - Komarov's last journey.

All of this is a powerful reservoir from which to draw, make no mistake. The story here is brilliant in my mind - the song is equally brilliant. However, "Brilliance" and "Legendary" have some gaps between each other; and Cormorant show a level of maturity reflected by their experience in smallest of touches for this song. It's those small details that create something quite outstanding. It's also worth acknowledging that Cormorant have a thing for Anti-Heroes or Villainous characters in their lyricism and their stories; which left my curiosity doubly piqued. Why Komarov? There was an edge to this song I felt existed but could not entirely appreciate, despite the delivery, the narrative, the passion - and the pitiless lyrical delivery. As with much in life, the key was in a small detail - the syntax, so often ignored when listening to a song.

"-- screaming --"

Why the emphasis? Cried, screaming; these words certainly invoke something. Often we bandy around terminology such as a "scream" to the point they lose real meaning- but a scream is supposed to be extraordinary, yes? A yell or a cry would be something moderate; but a scream - a scream has power. Frustration is highlighted, but there's something about this line, when combined with probably the highlight of a brilliant piece in 9.46

"to pluck the planets from a fertile sky."

Sky is delivered in this kind of discordant roar, half rage, half despair. At first I thought it was deft songwriting device. It's not hard to imagine Komarov raging in despair in his last moments either - and they use this to hitch the finale of the song (and the album) into a glorious assault of Dynamic and Triumphant Guitar solos that would make any prog fan most satisfied. There's something rich and indulgent about it, almost confident in the way youth, the energy of a band confident enough to let loose knowing they've hit it right.

But I had to read more, because it's a motif encapsulated by the last line's delivery in the song - 9.46 was already my favourite musical moment of the year. So I read more.

And there's the fact that to some reports, screaming

Reverse Narrative, starting in Medias Res.

Starting with his death.

Ending with his childhood, and his dreams and ambitions.

9.46 Isn't just a clever means to bring about a song's conclusion - it's spine of the song. Before it, narrative and exposition, a story being told. After, energy, guitars, a harrowing recording - and the end. The entire song's true emotional impact is built around a reference so obvious and yet so subtle. It's easy to look at it and go "recalling Komarov's last moments before he dies", as the narrator shifts from third to first person. It's another concept altogether to tie that with the symbolism of the era of innocence in manned spaceflight ending, to contrast the ambitions of a young man with the machine that would eventually cost him his life - as much the Soviet System as the capsule itself. All of the technical brilliance is just building on that.

It's a true sign of a band's maturity - and a sign of Cormorant's maturity as artists and as people, that they can turn cutting loose into something both confident and significant, arrogant and punchy - something with meaning and swagger. That they can build a showy, confident display of musical virtuosity in a way that makes the listener feel this is not just entirely appropriate, but warranty. But all of that is just window dressing - it's one person's attempt at a semi- analysis of a song they really liked.

I like it when ambitious songs try and tell a story. Cormorant set out to do this. The song builds to this.

And just for that one moment, Nagel is Komarov, and he is screaming.

Wolfmother.

Wolfmother have always been an enigma to me, because I have never really seen them as anything worthwhile listening to - I think they're not a particularly notable band at all. There's none of the 70's sparkle and energy of Blue Cheer (which I personally feel they are closest to) and much of the passion and "energy" modern fans associate with them is not present to me. A perfect example is The Joker And The Thief - where is the passion? It's loud, it's proud, it's angry ... and it's inarticulate and boring. And by passion I reference evident angst and energy; along the vein of MC5 some connect them to or the classics like Zeppelin. The lyrics of their previous works may attempt to be whimsical in a psychedelic style but the music does not support the premise - a poor man's Steppenwolf or Kyuss, with no willingness to push the envelope. I felt precious little passion in the writing of their Self-titled début, that this lack of “care” for the structure of the songs themselves undermined the “energy” of their presentation. . With this context established Cosmic Egg was another album I expected to be a fundamental disappointment – and I was not surprised in any way. It has some definite promise in areas but is again ruined by a lack of willingness on Wolfmother’s part to challenge themselves as artists, and generally disappointing song writing that makes many of these “epic” tunes overstay even the Grecian choir’s welcome.

I read a lot of reviews and opinions on Cosmic Egg, the same returns resonate with me. It is a consistent litany of music critics trying vainly to reach for their musical past and ending up as confused as the band. I see lines like "Wolfmother still parties like it's backstage at a Uriah Heep show", "like one of those crazy Black Sabbath stories" and "powerful and poignant rock n' roll record with all the ingredients of a modern classic" and I fume inside. This has to stop. This has to stop now. It is not good, it is not standout, it is not exceptional when a band is merely like someone else. If you want to make Rock and Roll - (and I would dispute that they actually do), it is not sufficient to be like. That's not conviction or passion - that's confusion. If someone becomes typecast by how they compare to other bands rather than having metaphors applied to them. It may be something of a trope-ridden line; but Wolfmother need to push themselves into a new direction and extend on what they are throwing homage to. I'm not expecting them to invent a new direction, they just need to actually step out of the comfort zone and write something non-derivative, to take risks. When you make a great album, you make it one of two ways. The first is you make it original and new and fresh - and that means people describe it in metaphor. This is not metaphor, and the album remains about as far away from a Modern Rock Classic as Australian music can conceivably arrive..

And that leaves only one other way for this to be brilliant - the "Persuader" Direction, to make a truly amazing album that embraces it’s own influences entirely instead of ending up stranded between the middle ground. Wolfmother however fail even at this. The music is unfocused, the solos don't feel like they have any power - and bereft of context, Andrew Stockdale's voice is just annoying New Moon Rising's hooks don't sound infectious at all, Sundial has none of the atmosphere that makes those "Crazy Black Sabbath Stories" so powerful (nor does it have iommi's sheer power). Pilgrim's and Sundial feature none of the "unforgettable" riffs I was told to expect - rather they feel pretty underwhelming given the standard set. When I hear "unforgettable" I think something powerful, convincingly - possessing an almost unnatural energy akin to Sabbath's Symptom of the Universe, not overlong pieces of 1970 worship. In one of the truly quite transcendent victories on the album - In the Morning, songwriting undermines concept. It remains huge, aggressive, wielding a monster tune and hitting the right spots - until the band refuses to end the bloody song. Queue a good concept ruined by overstaying the welcome and you have another audible sigh echoing from this critic's consciousness . The bass is not killer - it's about as effective as an Irish injury, it works against the music. Unlike bands that try and really wholeheartedly embrace their influences and rework that into something new, sharp, cutting and passionate - they stumble around.

If you want to re imagine a 70's style that was so iconic, important and varied (especially psychedelic) you have to have a clarity of purpose - because you must stand out from the contemporaries and those that came before you. A good example is the Gaslight Anthem - They are simple, They are (not just sound) sincere, and they kill you every time. Wolfmother are never this consistently enough. They do have some pretty damn good moments - all of the things above that I criticised are actually quite solid, they just needed to be taken further. A definite gap exists between what they seem to be capable of at their peaks and what is presented in LP form. As mentioned previously with the example of In the Morning - most of their music feels over-long and yet too short. Personally, I’m operating under the feeling they try to accomplish too much in a four minute song (hello Sundial, I’m looking at your attempt at an epic-yet-concise “story”) and that makes the whole experience end so soon - yet sound so dense. Amidst this bipolar dichotomy of a song attempting to accomplish too much in space too little, I’m struck with the feeling the subtlety that could give Cosmic Egg real power is completely eclipsed. Violence of the Sun is actually excellent and a real savior for the labum- but they just consistently fail to push the envelope. They get a 7/10 and have never improved that score - if anything losing Chris Ross brings them down a .5.

They're a bunch of confused Australians honestly misguided enough to say they quit because of "irreconcilable personal and musical differences". Nobody should ever claim such legalese when they clearly sound like they don't even know what they want to be playing, let alone what they disagree on. For the love of god, people are calling Cosmic Egg VINTAGE Wolfmother. Vintage. VINTAGE. What the hell? As if their records mean something already in the grand scale of contemporary music. How long is it going to take before someone else other than me stands the bloody hell up and shouts it to the crowd that the emperor has no clothes? We obsess over Wolfmother, Ben Lee, we ignore Architecture In Helsinki, Machine Translations, Virgin Black and drove Destroyer 666 away? Now with the Return of Wolfmother we are prepared to let them get away with this twice.

Goddamnit. Australia.

Goddamnit.

___________________________

PS:. To those who still enjoy a very opinionated and passionate 1970's era punk styling, actually grab yourself both albums by the American Quartet The Gaslight Anthem, those being Sink or Swim and The 59 Sound. I doubt you will regret it. They even managed to make PitchforkMedia's reviewers sound like human beings again. Truly something special.

Next up who knows? Maybe Nickelback (Grizzlies).
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