Cosmonauts // Persona Non Grata
Recommended Track: Sweet Talk
I’m a big proponent of the way krautrock elements have started seeping into garage bands’ material. Dwyer and Thee Oh Sees probably initiated this trend, which I’ve just now decided to call The Kreeping Kraut™, but Cosmonauts are actually taking it even further. On Persona Non Grata, for a band that describes its music as “garage pop,” they really ignore melody to an incredible degree, focusing instead on making these lush-yet-menacing sound caves. The vocals are flat, affectless, pushed back inside a storm of minor-key, repetitive guitar figures that beat around on the inside of your head. There’s an element of insanity, or maybe of sociopathy. Also, it’s really good rock music.
See “Sweet Talk” for an induction into what Persona is about. Even-keeled rhythms, repetition, even some handclaps, and – wait a second – did I just catch the phrase “raped and mauled?” There’s something malicious in these songs, and the flat delivery and tight sonic echo chamber serve to put you inside of it. The record builds gradually, passing through a lot of different stages, until it explodes with “Dirty Harry” (which is a good song in its own right, but which in the context of the album takes on a whole different meaning).
How you feel about this record is going to depend somewhat on your capacity to deal with slow 6-minute-plus songs on the regular. Some, like the standout “My Alba,” wrap you up and let you inhabit them in a grim but comfortable sort of way. But there’s also “Wear Your Hair Like A Weapon,” which is too labored and exhausting to hold up that long. The last big-ticket item is “Pure Posture,” which was the best of the pre-album singles; here, they’ve appended this whack electronic intro, of which I’m not a fan, but which does serve to heighten the effect of the main line when it comes in and flattens you – that’s the most evil I’ve heard in a guitar riff in a long while. “Pure Posture” also contains the best line on the record: “I don’t worry ’bout her soul at night ’cause she sleeps with her legs crossed.” That’s good enough that I’m willing to forgive the multiple “head”/“dead” rhymes which infest the LP.
The one place that Persona really sags is track 7, “I’m So Bored With You.” Built on a spare beat and looped guitar howl, it’s just a short vocal line repeated over and over for four straight minutes. Without the lushness of the earlier tracks, “Bored” starts to grate almost immediately, while its title invites all kinds of obvious record-critic snipes. I also found myself confused by the choice to include the surprisingly Beatles-tinged “Summertime Blue” as a closer. It serves as the traditional optimistic palate-cleanser, thus diluting the darkness that Persona builds up to that point. Without “Blue,” this would be a darker and possibly more interesting set. Anyway, it’s a good song and would be a highlight for most other bands, so, whatever, I shouldn’t complain too much.
This is one of those records that deserves the time to actually be listened to start-to-finish; the band has bothered to put some care into its construction, so you may as well return the favor and put in the headphones for a minute (perhaps skipping “I’m So Bored With You”). It’s engulfing, smart, and often menacing – sort of in the manner of Lust For Life-era Iggy Pop. You’ll probably either love it or hate it, but either way, it’s one of the most interesting records you’re going to hear this year.