Cuckoo Chaos: Woman

Hailing from San Diego, Cuckoo Chaos take in influences from Africa and Graceland on their frustratingly short debut LP.

Cuckoo Chaos


Label: Lefse
US Release Date: 2011-09-26

It's clear from the first few bars of Woman's opener, “Jesus Flag American Fish”, that somebody at Cuckoo Chaos HQ in San Diego has been listening to Paul Simon's Graceland. As far as starts go, it's a good one -- indeed, there are people around who almost equate a fondness for that record as a prerequisite for personhood. These SoCal souls are about more than just combining indie rock with afro-pop, however. With demonstrable interests in calypso, surf, and funk music -- not to mention a bit of Chinese spiritualism on the side -- Cuckoo Chaos have a diverse sound which on Woman is grounded by the uniting theme of “young love and the struggles associated with it”.

Instrumentally, the band would be plain greedy to ask for a better rhythm section to provide the basis for their tunes. Garrett Prange's funk-influenced bass lines consistently refuse to be ordinary and are wonderfully complemented by Dave Mead's drumming, which is often frenetic but never in a way which detracts from the top end. Up there, the band's three guitarists can each flit seamlessly and seemingly without effort through the whole gamut of their influences, while vocalists Scott Wheeler and Jackson Milgaten protest that “the mind can't comprehend what the heart understands”. Found on “Healthy Ghost”, that line seems to explain that to achieve a sound this engaging, intelligence and craft alone won't do -- it takes instinct and feel, too.

Given all they have to show, it is odd and unfortunate that Woman offers Cuckoo Chaos only seven songs and 26 minutes to ply their wares. While happily they load the first six slots of this neither-here-nor-there EP/LP package with the danceable art rock they do so well, the inclusion of “Massage Song” as a closer is a major misstep which is difficult to overlook. Consuming by itself almost six minutes of the band's -- and our -- time, the song is mostly lacking in the diversity and unpredictability that made Cuckoo Chaos an interesting prospect in the first place. The inclusion of this languid noodling session would be more tolerable as part of a larger project, but Woman is otherwise small and neat enough to be genuinely damaged by its energy-sapping influence.

It takes only another listen to a cut like “Just Ride It”, though, before our defenses are down again. Although it makes a real feature of Prange's tactile bass work, there are always more layers to discover, not least the delicate and Africa-inspired guitar performances. “Bad Bad Man” is a little less layered and a little more slight, but it proves that our San Diego boys can turn up the pace a little when required without sacrificing their diversity. It's not just the heady days of Graceland's summer of '86 that Woman brings to mind, either -- the band's emphasis on tight instrumental performances recalls the ambitious '70s rock groups who sought to master what they call “world music” to embellish and specify their sound.

That Cuckoo Chaos unite influences that range so widely in space and time is a testament to their ability as musicians; sadly, that Woman is so short and so frustratingly close-but-no-cigar with respect to consistency is somebody's major failure of track-listing. The abiding sense is that this band have a way to still travel with their worldly sound, however, and this short but sweet taste of where they are right now is more than reason enough to want to ride shotgun.





Cordelia Strube's 'Misconduct of the Heart' Palpitates with Dysfunction

Cordelia Strube's 11th novel, Misconduct of the Heart, depicts trauma survivors in a form that's compelling but difficult to digest.


Reaching For the Vibe: Sonic Boom Fears for the Planet on 'All Things Being Equal'

Sonic Boom is Peter Kember, a veteran of 1980s indie space rockers Spacemen 3, as well as Spectrum, E.A.R., and a whole bunch of other fascinating stuff. On his first solo album in 30 years, he urges us all to take our foot off the gas pedal.


Old British Films, Boring? Pshaw!

The passage of time tends to make old films more interesting, such as these seven films of the late '40s and '50s from British directors John Boulting, Carol Reed, David Lean, Anthony Kimmins, Charles Frend, Guy Hamilton, and Leslie Norman.


Inventions' 'Continuous Portrait' Blurs the Grandiose and the Intimate

Explosions in the Sky and Eluvium side project, Inventions are best when they are navigating the distinction between modes in real-time on Continuous Portrait.


Willie Jones Blends Country-Trap With Classic Banjo-Picking on "Trainwreck" (premiere)

Country artist Willie Jones' "Trainwreck" is an accessible summertime breakup tune that coolly meshes elements of the genre's past, present, and future.


2011's 'A Different Compilation' and 2014 Album 'The Way' Are a Fitting Full Stop to Buzzcocks Past

In the conclusion of our survey of the post-reformation career of Buzzcocks, PopMatters looks at the final two discs of Cherry Red Records' comprehensive retrospective box-set.


Elysia Crampton Creates an Unsettlingly Immersive Experience with ​'Ocorara 2010'

On Ocorara 2010, producer Elysia Crampton blends deeply meditative drones with "misreadings" of Latinx poets such as Jaime Saenz and Juan Roman Jimenez


Indie Folk's Mt. Joy Believe That Love Will 'Rearrange Us'

Through vibrant imagery and inventive musicality, Rearrange Us showcases Americana band Mt. Joy's growth as individuals and musicians.


"Without Us? There's No Music": An Interview With Raul Midón

Raul Midón discusses the fate of the art in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. "This is going to shake things up in ways that could be very positive. Especially for artists," he says.


The Fall Go Transatlantic with 'Reformation! Post-TLC'

The Fall's Reformation! Post-TLC, originally released in 2007, teams Mark E. Smith with an almost all-American band, who he subsequently fired after a few months, leaving just one record and a few questions behind.


Masaki Kobayashi's 'Kwaidan' Horror Films Are Horrifically Beautiful

The four haunting tales of Masaki Kobayashi's Kwaidan are human and relatable, as well as impressive at a formal and a technical level.


The Top 10 Thought-Provoking Science Fiction Films

Serious science fiction often takes a backseat to the more pulpy, crowdpleasing genre entries. Here are 10 titles far better than any "dogfight in space" adventure.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.