Should It Feel Like This? by The Cowls – Album Review
Should It Feel Like This? by The Cowls
by David Schuster
It’s a truism that often the best opportunities in life arise through what initially appears to be very bad luck. So it was when Damion Jurrens, the solo musician behind The Cowls, became very ill, just as he had completed his second release, Should It Feel Like This?
Lying in bed recovering and listening to the tracks, he decided that it was too similar sounding to his previous material. There and then he set about taking the songs apart, re-mixing and cutting them into something different. In his words, “The new album is much more chopped up and processed; there’s a lot more background noise going on. It’s a bit of a Frankenstein’s monster!” In so doing he created a record which has a distinctive edgy and experimental feel.
Track two, ‘Speaking in Tongues’ exemplifies this approach, and is a tour de force of interesting sounds and clever lyrics that reward paying close attention. The defiant lines “I’m feeling pretty high and I’m in no mood to come down. So, I stuffed it in a bottle, and I threw it in the river, and I guess I hoped it’d drift away”, subtly morph into recognition of dependency: “So I crept into the bottle, and I sank right to the bottom. I guess I figured I’d drift away.” The heavily treated and reversed vocal sample of the chorus acutely captures a feeling of woozy alcoholic confusion.
The title track also deals with emotional confusion, opening with a white noise snare and throbbing bass, before being overlaid with heavily fuzzed guitar. The beat is to the fore, and the vocals low in the mix, in a claustrophobic way. This is how Joy Division might have sounded, had Ian Curtis remained alive, but they’d still evolved into New Order. Both ‘Don’t Push’ and ‘Pit of My Stomach’ with their clockwork beats and nice resonant bass remind me of another 80’s experimentalist, Lene Lovich, a feeling heightened by the ‘Pong’ game bleeps of ‘Don’t Push’.
The catch though with being experimental is that, by definition, it’s more challenging to listen to. ‘Conflagration’ for example slips too far into dissonance. So, whilst I admire the sonic creativity of Should It Feel Like This? more than Certain Calculations, the first from The Cowls, I’ll probably listen to the latter more in the car. Of course, there’s a simple solution to this; buy both albums and play them on random! That said, I’d like the third record to fall musically somewhere between the two predecessors, and it seems I won’t have to wait too long; Jurrens is phenomenally prolific, completing this second release just 12 months after his debut.
I recently re-watched The Matrix and was struck by how well the songs on Should It Feel Like This? would sit alongside the original music from the likes of Rage Against The Machine and The Prodigy. There’s a wonderful cinematic feeling of dystopian future which pervades the whole album and would have made ‘Now That I’m Screaming’ or ‘Pit of My Stomach’ a great choice for the soundtrack of either Blade Runner 2049 or Joker. Having written that, I realised that this record is ideally suited to movie film scores. To test that theory, I put the Sienna rooftop chase scene, from Quantum of Solace, on the laptop and listened to ‘Plans’, the closing number, through headphones; perfect with both visuals and music enhancing each other. It’s fun: Try it yourself at home with your favourite movie action sequence.
Should It Feel Like This? demonstrates that good things really can come from the worst situations. The keyboard riffs echo early Gary Numan and Ultravox, but there’s a lot more depth here than the technology of 80’s synth-pop could support; the more you turn it up, the more nuances you hear in the layers of sound. This is electronic music which rewards being played loud.