As an opening note to this review I’d like to commend Cower, and label, Human Worth, for their decision to make donations from sales of the album to the Hackney Food Bank charity. At a time when unemployment and poverty are unfortunately on the rise in London and the UK, charities like this are vital for the welfare of families and individuals.
It wasn’t a difficult decision to review this album when I read the list of bands from which the members of Cower came from. The Ghost Of A Thousand were one of the best bands to ever come out of the 2000s UK hardcore scene, and their edgy garage punk influenced style was way ahead of its time. I’ve had the pleasure of playing on the same bill as Death Pedals a few years ago in a North London warehouse, and they absolutely blew the room away with their dense concoction of post-punk and noise rock. I became aware of USA Nails on the East London gig scene around 2014/15 as they purveyed to the city their harsh, discomforting, yet utterly thrilling take on krautrock. If I could use one word to describe each band it would be ‘subversive’, in that none of them stuck to the established boundaries of their particular genres. With Boys, Cower have deliberately clashed sounds and ethos’s together to create an absolutely fascinating debut album.
Boys kicks off with Tight Trousers And A Look Of Intent, beginning as a subtle construction of sultry bass lines, hypnotic rhythms and strange electronics underlying a fabulously restrained delivery, the type which somehow only vocalists with a British accent can do this well. Suddenly there’s a great big punch of electronic noise that feels like being whacked around the head with a broken Moog, the hazy concussion lingering for some time before it suddenly lets go and revealing that you’re in the same place your were before, the unsettling bass notes continuing to cycle like a particularly tuneful tinnitus. Things don’t get any more comforting with Proto-Lion Tamer, a full on noise-punk number that pulsates uncountable layers of guitar and bass, acutely disturbing synthesisers and an intensity that Daughters would be most proud of.
Arise You Shimmering Nightmare builds a distinctly gothic atmosphere with its creepy piano line and haunting ghostly vocals, but throughout the track the drums are so ferociously tribal, it feels as if the force of stick on skin might cause the whole sky to come caving in. Like all good gothic music, this doesn’t feel at home during the day time, its music to be listened to in the dead of night, on a quiet and barely lit street, the amber glow of the occasional street light the only thing guiding your journey to nowhere.
But to hell with all that atmosphere, because suddenly Enough comes running in with an enormous caustic bass-line, kicking over chairs and amplifiers with its restless drums, smashing bottles and bones with its brilliantly brittle vocal delivery and leaving no corner of the room free from its venomous aural assault.
This is a wildly creative record from some wildly creative individuals…
Saxophones By The Water takes things to the most consistently mellow point on the record. If you took Editors at their most bold, combined them with Rolo Tomassi at their most stripped back, painted it with some Pornography era The Cure and used lyrics by Richey Edwards, then you might come up with something like this track. Despite it’s more restrained tone, it’s the most cutting song on the record, providing a creative commentary on toxic masculinity (a theme that runs throughout the record) that feels vitally important; but there is a weariness to the delivery too, one that suggests someone so tired of having to constantly denounce misogyny and sexism, yet knowing that giving up just can’t be an option.
Midnight Sauce is a weird clash of atmospheric rumbling drones, dramatic synthesiser lines and raucous drums that don’t work together that efficiently; the drums are so overpowering and high in the mix they feel like the school bully who would block your way through the classroom door, sarcastically saying ‘What’s the problem? Can’t you get through? Why don’t you just walk through?!’. Fog Walker brings some balance back, and although the drums are still vigorous, there is enough space for the atmosphere to really shine amongst the tension of the performance. For The Boys unfortunately suffers again from the drums being so immediate and close that the beautifully layered guitars, mambo inspired piano chords and delicate vocals can’t quite be as effective as they should be.
Park Jogger brings back the crushingly brutal noise, but this time in a more harmonic way with the vocals faded sweetly into the background. After the track breaks down into a soft stomp, it builds itself up again into a melancholic shoegaze number that gets more and more massive in structure as it goes on, before a final clean release of synths that fades everything into a welcome silence. It’s a great sounding final track, but I feel it had more potential as a tune and it could have been expanded much further as a closing number.
There is a plethora of amazing ideas across this album, and whilst I don’t think all of them are as fleshed out as they could be, it’s not to be unexpected. This is a wildly creative record from some wildly creative individuals, and it’s rare in this situation that there won’t, at times, be some underwritten pieces or overly enthusiastic performances. That said, the first half of this album is exceptional, and the band show an impressive ability to balance tension and aggression on a very sharp knife edge. Cower are clearly a bold and fearless band with tons of ability, and Boys is a wonderful introduction to the subversive sonic world they’re crafting.
Scribed by: Will J