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Album review: Cosines “Oscillations” (FRUK)

August 12, 2014

Cosines 'Oscillations'London-based Cosines have, in their brief existence, managed to develop their particular synth-driven indie-pop sound via three singles and a string of live shows to the point where an album is the next obvious step. Accordingly they’ve recently released Oscillations and it serves as a useful introduction to their music for anybody interested in finding out what lies behind the hype.

The oft-cited influence of the legendary and much-missed Stereolab is present throughout the ten tracks and, to their credit, Cosines do at least attempt to avoid obvious pastiche and add their own individual take on that band’s distinctive post-rock sound. Certain core elements are reused – analogue-sounding synths, distorted electric guitar and a metronomic beat – but the most obvious difference is the substitution of Lætitia Sadier’s coolly knowing vocals for Alice Hubley’s more prosaic style.

Live favourite Out Of The Fire kicks things off and not only epitomises Cosines’ sound but also sets out their stall for the rest of the album: buzzing synths, guitar and bass riffing in unison behind a lyric about a relationship drama, with a nice minor key modulation in its chord progression. An almost fairground organ powers the angsty Nothing More Than A Feeling, although a fuzz guitar solo by Simon Nelson after the middle eight catches the listener’s attention. Walking Away admonishes an unidentified female listener for her passivity in life and love; again the Farfisa organ setting carries the song, interspersed with a sawtooth synth sequence above the rattling drums.

 

Simon handles the lead vocal duties for Lookout Mountain Drive; and guitars are much more to the fore throughout, from the jangly rhythm guitar to the heavily distorted lead break in the middle. The largely instrumental Pop-in-court returns to the 1960s style bubblegum pop keyboards and squelchy synths; the marimba (by guest Gabe Saucedo) offering a change of timbre. Alice’s short vocal section finds her chastising anyone who thinks that “my music grates” before asserting that she cares “about these things, more than you”. It’s an intriguing moment where a vulnerable artistic temperament is unexpectedly revealed and it’s curiously at odds with the facade of detached retro-hip coolness which otherwise dominates the record.

Side two opens with Binary Primary, co-written by Alice and bassist Daniel Chapman; its heavy rock riff, windmilling drums and declamatory lyric recalling the end days of 1960s psychedelia. Bad trips and brown acid, indeed. Stalemate, the second song co-written by Alice and Simon, continues the sombre mood with another lyric about a failing relationship although there’s a well-constructed chord progression and some sweet harmonies at the back of the mix.

The stuttering Runaway wears its Stereolab heart on its sleeve but bursts into candy-coloured life with a delightfully unhinged explosion of synths in the middle eight. Misguide Me, co-written by Alice and the mysterious Bob Brown, has a certain lightness of touch and an almost discordant chord sequence which, along with Gary Olson’s well-placed trumpet solo, help to engage the listener and perhaps offer pointers for the future development of the band’s sound and musical direction.

The album draws to a close with the downtempo Our Ghosts, its cavernous drums and dreamy keyboard a welcome counterpoint to its introspective kitchen sink drama lyric before a reverbed guitar solo and some very New Order style strings drift off into a sunset reverie. Oscillations is a solid debut album with moments of human kindness melting the sang froid; it’s a promising start which provides tantalising clues to a potentially great band and I, for one, will be listening out for future releases with interest.

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Originally posted at Folk Radio UK (12 August 2014)

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