Unknown Sounds

BY ELIZABETH SEGRAN

Cotton Jones • Paranoid Cocoon (2009) ♥♥♥♥♥

Michael Nau and Whitney McGraw, members of the erstwhile indie-folk band Page France, have turned their focus to a side project. The duo has called their new band Cotton Jones, a name that captures the simple charm of their music. Paranoid Cocoon is a soothing album, but it mostly paints various shades of melancholy. One song, “Some Strange Rain,” perfectly encapsulates the feeling of sitting by a window, watching the light drizzle of springtime in San Francisco. One of the most beautiful duets on the album, “Gone the Bells,” is about living through the loss of love: “I was looking for your heart, through the flowers in the park, for hours in the park… In a dream, in a dream, all the beautiful things.” Who hasn’t been there?

The band has some identifiable influences. The Doors feature noticeably in their music, as do The Grateful Dead. There is also an undercurrent of old-time, folksy, country music, particularly in songs like “Blood Red Sentimental Blues.” This music evokes mountains and cloudy skies. The overall sound is homespun and unpolished, as if Nau and McGraw made this album in a wood cabin with chickens outside. (Chickens actually make an appearance in one song.)

This album is full of angst, but it is not pessimistic. Ultimately, it’s about emerging into the light a little stronger. The album ends cathartically with “The Changer,” where Nau and McGraw, voices entwined, sing: “Everything has turned around, been waiting for a little change, and when it finally came, I just waited for another. You know I’m a changer, the re-arranger, I’m always a stranger.” Paranoid Cocoon is about letting life wash over you – always aware the sadness just makes the good times sweeter.

Copeland • You Are My Sunshine (2008) ♥♥♥♥♥

Copeland has produced four strikingly different full-length albums since it emerged in 2003. Aaron Marsh, the band’s front man, has experimented with various styles over the years, ranging from garage rock to catchy pop to emo. Throughout, however, Copeland has maintained an introspective quality coupled with unashamed expressions of emotion. This latest offering is their most accomplished, because the band manages to showcase what is unique about their sound. Marsh’s voice is full of yearning and unfulfilled desire. Daringly, he sings almost entirely in falsetto – a move that lends this album a fascinating, androgynous quality.

This time around, the lyrics focus on life in the raw. “To Be Happy Now,” as its title suggests, is about fighting for your own happiness. “Strange and Unprepared” is an ode to ambivalent emotions: “I never feel good or bad, only strange and unprepared.” As always, Copeland shines brightest in love songs. In keeping with the rest of the album, the songs describe the bittersweet aspects of love. “Chin Up” talks about the sadness that we conceal for the sake of those we love: “Back to when we started, losing who we were, everybody knows that, you’d break your neck, to keep your chin up.” In “Not Allowed,” Marsh sings about self-sacrifice: “I’ll burn for you now, ’cause you’re mine, and you’re not allowed to feel no­thing. Careful, I may fall apart for you now, make you cry, but I’m not allowed to be sad.”

Despite what may sound like desperately sad lyrics, the overall flavor of this album is not depressing at all. In fact, there are times when it sounds downright cheery, as if it were dappled in sunshine. The title of the album captures this paradox: like the classic American song “You Are My Sunshine,” bubbly rhythm gives way to somber words.

Mae • Singularity (2007) ♥♥♥

Mae is already a familiar name to fans of the emo pop-rock genre. Since signing with Tooth and Nail in 2001, they have produced two albums – Destination:Beautiful (2003) and The Everglow (2006) – both characterized by lightness and innocence.

In 2007, they moved over to Capitol Records, and with this shift have come changes in their music. Their third EP, Singularity, is edgier and harder. Part of this evolution is the result of two new members, Josiah Schlater on bass and Robert Smith on keyboards. These guys, who are also part of the band Tokyo, bring to Mae their indie background and a willingness to push the band into new territory. Elkin’s voice is also noticeably deeper on most of the tracks, which lends the band a sound that is resonant and more mature. The single, “Sometimes You Can’t Make It On Your Own” almost has a metallic quality to it. Still, the band holds on to its fondness for hooks that keeps it firmly in the realm of pop-rock. Some songs are completely addictive. The two middle songs, “On Top” and “Waiting” don’t get old even when you’ve hit the repeat button multiple times.

The songs are still largely lighthearted, treating even difficult issues blithely. In “Just Let Go,” Elkin croons, “There’s an old oak tree / We can swing and sway / Throw our guards away / You’re so far away.” Mae doesn’t break much new ground in this album, but fans will enjoy the gradual development and unfolding of this band’s music.

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