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Death of the Cool

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Album Review

Cotton Mather, the power pop group led by Robert Harrison, released one of the most impressive under-the-radar classic albums of the '90s, Kontiki. It hit right in the sweet spot between the melodies of the Beatles and the flash of the Who, the clang of the Raspberries, and the sneaky wit of Squeeze, with one wonderful song after another. It was a hard mark to surpass for any band, and after trying a couple times and getting close, the band folded up shop in 2013. Harrison never stopped making music, putting out interesting psych-pop albums under the name Future Clouds & Radar. After an expanded reissue of Kontiki saw the light of day in 2012, Harrison decided to give Cotton Mather new life. Inspired by his studies of the I Ching, he set about writing a song for each of the 64 hexagrams. The initial batch he recorded with a new cast of musicians (and Whit Williams from the earliest incarnation of the band) form the first Cotton Mather album in 15 years, Death of the Cool. It kicks off with the romping "The Book of Too Late Changes," a track that seems designed to announce with no question that the band is back and hasn't lost a step over the years. The cascading drums, sharply jangling guitars, and Harrison's reliably Lennon-esque vocals make the song sound lifted right off side two of Kontiki. The production is a bit less polished, there's no Brad Jones magic touch here, but it makes up for it with the immediacy. The rest of the album charts a course from swirling psych-pop ("Close to the Sun") to tender country-rock balladry ("The Middle of Nowhere," the sticky sweet "Candy Lilac"), chamber pop melancholy ("The Land of Flowers," "Child Bride"), and strutting late-'60s pop ("Queen of Swords"), with every stop along the way as melodic and cunning as the best power pop can be. Throughout, Harrison's gifts are as strong as ever and the album stands on equal ground with the Cotton Mather back catalog. Not quite as breathtaking as Kontiki, but that would be too much to ask for. Landing just short of that mark is nothing to sneeze at and each and every fan of power pop should make sure to rejoin team Cotton Mather for this fine album, and for the next 53 songs too.

Customer Reviews

Keep it coming

Harrison never puts out crap . But he puts out to little we Want more. I am worried though that there are no early released songs

A welcome, but slight, return

Not as great as 'Kontiki' but probably better than 'The Big Picture'. Kind of feels lightweight but it has some keepers. The opening track plus the winsome 'Child Bride' and 'Queen of Swords' are the best of the batch. These are the first of some 64 songs to be released with others previewed on the band website. I'm already forward to the next batch. It was a long time coming (15 years, not counting Future Clouds & Radar) but better late than never. I wish this first set of songs was a little more fulfilling. I guess the trick to the trade is to leave 'em wanting more.

Best effort since "Kontiki"

Robert Harrison has written the 64 songs that comprise his latest musical vision: one song for each hexagram (or reading) of the I Ching.
This is the first official release of those songs. (21 of those songs are available on the internet though).

This is a nice collection of songs, probably his best since "Kontiki". Quite a few pop gems and ballads throughout that makes for a pleasant listening. The only problem I have with it is there is not really one song that really stands out. They are all good songs but nothing on here made me really sit up and say "Wow, this is a great song / album". Sure I like some of the songs better than others but there's not a bad song in the bunch.

Many other artists of this genre would kill for being involved in the writing / recording of these songs, but maybe I was just expecting something more from him after being off the radar for so long. Where "Kontiki" was filled with great, off kilter, inventive music, this just seems a little safe and generic. Still, very enjoyable - power pop lovers should like it (and some will love it).


Formed: 1991 in Austin, TX

Genre: Rock

Years Active: '90s, '00s, '10s

A brilliant fusion of the Beatles, Squeeze, Guided by Voices, and power pop influences both vintage and contemporary, Cotton Mather are one of those rare power pop groups who transcend their inspirations to create powerful and original music of their own. Formed in Austin, Texas in 1991, the original Cotton Mather (named after the famous Puritan preacher and author) lineup consisted of singer/guitarist Robert Harrison; his main foil, guitarist Whit Williams; bassist Matt Hovis; and drummer Greg Thibeaux,...
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Death of the Cool, Cotton Mather
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