As regular readers of Fingertips know, I have an eternal musical soft spot for the elusive genre of power pop. My devotion is rooted in the genre’s unabashed melodicism, drive, and, for lack of a better word, song-iness—which is to say power pop doesn’t strain against the conventions of songwriting, it embraces them. As such, power pop has long offered me a safe space from which to observe forces at work on our musical culture that are far beyond any one person’s control. As I see it, music’s long-term destiny as a mass medium has involved a concurrent movement towards compositional simplification on the one hand (think Brahms to Beatles to Bieber) and movement away from beauty on the other (think of classical music’s embrace of atonality, and rock’n’roll’s evolution into beat-driven performance—which can of course be wonderful and compelling but does not usually care about or aim for the value of loveliness). Power pop, of all genres, seems to me to say: “This may not be complicated but it’s still gorgeous.” Oh and you can often dance to it.
But now here’s Cotton Mather’s front man Robert Harrison asking the musical question: is it still power pop when the hooks are this subtle and/or convoluted? Normally power pop is a brisk swatch of ear candy, buoyed by an ineffable sense of depth and yearning. “The Book of Too Late Changes” appears at first to be all angles and incompletions; follow the drumming alone and your head may spin a bit. You will in any case be hard-pressed to sing along. But, I say power pop nonetheless. In fact, I believe “The Book of Too Late Changes” represents an attentive reinvigoration of the genre, with as much punch and drive and melody as your grandfather’s power pop, and yet now with all sorts of tangential twists and turns, with glorious moments and motifs replacing sing-along choruses, all the while embracing the general jangly vibe the genre almost always celebrates. See if you hear what I hear.
Cotton Mather is a Texas band with a semi-legendary history; their 1997 album Kontiki was called “the best album the Beatles never recorded” by The Guardian, in the UK. But the band called it quits without fuss in 2003 (and were featured here on Fingertips that same year). Harrison re-emerged in 2007 at the head of a project called Future Clouds and Radar (likewise featured on Fingertips, in 2008). Prompted by a Kickstarter-funded deluxe re-issue of Kontiki in 2011, Cotton Mather re-formed and played some live gigs, first to support the album then just because. Eventually, Harrison was struck with the improbable idea of recording a 64-song cycle based on the I Ching. “The Book of Too Late Changes” is the first song to emerge from what is envisioned as a multi-record vinyl recording. For the time being, the songs will be released individually as they are recorded.
MP3 via Magnet Magazine.