EP of the Year
I know there’s still a bit of time left to go in this year, and there’s no doubt I’ll be hearing some more EPs through that span of time, but I’m going to just go ahead and give it up to coco b’s and their beautiful new release firehawks and dirtybirds. What this group has produced is some of the best 13-and-a-half minutes of indie pop ever laid down. Yes, that’s a bold statement to make, but given the fact that I’ve listened to this disc countless times now, I feel that it is a most necessary and valid one.
The “group” (you can either call them coco b’s or coco b’s basement songs; both have been used by the band itself) as it were consists of Kevin Castillo and Bob Penn. These guys reside out in Orange County, California, a location better known for its myriad of punk groups than the sparkling pop of coco b’s nature. So yes, one might consider the band a diamond in the rough. Whatever the case may be, the end result is all that matters: Kevin Castillo and Bob Penn are indie pop masters.
When I first heard this disc, I was immediately taken by Kevin’s vocals. To me, they were reminiscent of E (as in “A Man Called E”, and leader of the Eels) as well as that of Elliott Smith’s. OK, so you finally got me. Here I am, the critic who always bitches about how often Smith’s name is mentioned these days, and here I have gone and done it myself. But it’s true. Castillo and Penn create quiet and moody, but always incredibly accessible tunes that seem to echo something from before, but you’re not quite sure what. The guys profess to liking Steely Dan, but there’s no parallel between Becker and Fagen and Mike and Bob.
So what you get here is eight tracks, with an intro (“hi neighbor”) and an outro (“rol-over”). Both tracks are less than a minute long, as is the strange and lo-fi “watchin’ paint dry”. But don’t mistake these guys for another lo-fi band with a charming sound. Kevin and Bob recorded these tracks on a couple of ADATs, giving the whole disc a beautiful sheen that begs you to listen to the songs again and again. Indeed, it’s songs like “mini-electron echo” and “arena rock cinema” that sound like much more than just two guys recording a few tunes. And don’t let those song titles scare you away, either. Tucked inside them are songs with much musical sparkle and imagination.
Apart from the shimmering “big okie dokie” (my personal favorite song here), there are two beautiful acoustic tunes. Both “bluebird” and “studebaker rd.” display a sense of innocence and cinematic imagery that beckons to be inspected with each play. It’s hard to put into words just how precious these songs are (and I do mean that in a good way). It’s simple pop, but at the same time there’s an undercurrent of real passion and a knack for bittersweet melodies that take Castillo and Penn’s songs away from the ordinary doldrums and into something far larger and grand.
The guys recorded this EP in their own studio that I am told is located over an auto parts warehouse. Kevin himself told me it’s a very convenient situation, one that allows he and Bob to record whenever they like. I can’t imagine the workers in the warehouse bitching too much when music this sweet is being created. The K-Double imprint is also a creation of coco b’s. Apparently there was going to be a follow-up EP to go along with this one, but the guys have instead decided to turn it into a full-length project.
Simply put, this is a very essential release for this year. It’s music that is direct, honest, and incredibly addictive. Thirteen or so odd minutes might not seem like a lot, but when the songs are this good that you find yourself listening to them whenever you can, you begin to realize that sometimes it’s really not about the quantity at all. It’s currently for sale on the band’s website for a mere five bucks. I can think of a lot worse music you could tank that amount plus a few dollars more into. Just take my word for it when I say that firehawks and dirtybirds is some of the best music that’s ever been released, period.