Music

Rose Cousins: We Have Made a Spark

Photo: Shervin Iainez

A roomful of friends can't elevate this tepid set above the humdrum.


Rose Cousins

We Have Made a Spark

Label: Old Farm Pony
US Release Date: 2012-02-28
UK Release Date: 2012-03-06
Amazon
iTunes

Rose Cousins is a Canadian-born, Boston-based singer-songwriter whose latest full-length, We Have Made a Spark, is a collaboration with a number of Boston musicians. Impeccably recorded and performed, We Have Made a Spark benefits from the contributions of a number of talented people, including but not limited to Zachariah Hickman on upright bass and organ, Charlie Rose on pedal steel, banjo and dobro, and Laura Cortese on violin and backing vocals. Despite this variety of input, the record suffers from a dearth of memorable songs. After a strong start, it settles into a kind of languid dullness.

The lead song is also the album’s best. "The Darkness" is an excellent tune that benefits from accents of dobro and mandocello and sultry vocals reminiscent of Neko Case. The band is tight and Cousin's stylings are simultaneously energetic and world-weary, but the real secret is found in the song itself, possessing as it does a clear melody, lively harmonies and an engagingly complex arrangement.

This is, unfortunately, the album's high point. Follow-up tune "The Shell" is well performed but a good bit less memorable, while "One Way" drops the energy level even further. The first of the record's many downtempo, pretty but forgettable tunes, "One Way" sets the template for much of what is to follow. Cousin's voice here is minimally accompanied by piano and a hint of strings, but the instrumentation is minimal and the song is left to do the heavy lifting. It's not quite up to the task.

And so it goes. The listener is left waiting for another burst of sonic interest a la "The Darkness", but that wait will be in vain. Cousins slips into standard singer-songwriter mode, and her default setting is mellow acoustic strumming, a bit of low-key keyboard or percussion, and pretty, breathy vocals. There's nothing intrinsically wrong with this, but the sameness of the tunes grows tiresome after a while.

The news isn't entirely bad. "For the Best" contains some lively keyboards, and throughout, Cousins is adept at expressing wistfulness and a fair degree of longing in her songs. "If I Should Fall Behind" manages to simultaneously express defiance and anxiety, with the added bonus of Mark Erelli's effective harmony vocals.

Too much of the rest blurs together into a great wash of undifferentiated downtempo prettiness. The central portion of this album is made up of songs like "What I See", "Go First", "All the Stars", "For the Best" and "This Light," all of which remain difficult to call to mind even after repeated listenings. Cousins can sing, but there is little here that really stands out from the pack.

It's difficult to criticize a record as well-performed as this one -- the musicianship is competent, the sound is nicely balanced and it's a professional effort all around. Music is about more than competence, however, and apart from a handful of moments, there isn't much here that can be called exciting. Listeners partial to mellow female vocals might find something to enjoy, but overall, We Have Made a Spark lacks that difficult-to-quantify element that would elevate it from its peers. A spark it may have, but there is little to fan it into flame.

5

So far J. J. Abrams and Rian Johnson resemble children at play, remaking the films they fell in love with. As an audience, however, we desire a fuller experience.

As recently as the lackluster episodes I-III of the Star Wars saga, the embossed gold logo followed by scrolling prologue text was cause for excitement. In the approach to the release of any of the then new prequel installments, the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare, followed by the Lucas Film logo, teased one's impulsive excitement at a glimpse into the next installment's narrative. Then sat in the movie theatre on the anticipated day of release, the sight and sound of the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare signalled the end of fevered anticipation. Whatever happened to those times? For some of us, is it a product of youth in which age now denies us the ability to lose ourselves within such adolescent pleasure? There's no answer to this question -- only the realisation that this sensation is missing and it has been since the summer of 2005. Star Wars is now a movie to tick off your to-watch list, no longer a spark in the dreary reality of the everyday. The magic has disappeared… Star Wars is spiritually dead.

Keep reading... Show less
6

This has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it.

It hardly needs to be said that the last 12 months haven't been everyone's favorite, but it does deserve to be noted that 2017 has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it. Other longtime dreamers either reappeared or kept up their recent hot streaks, and a number of relative newcomers established their place in what has become one of the more robust rock subgenre subcultures out there.

Keep reading... Show less
Theatre

​'The Ferryman': Ephemeral Ideas, Eternal Tragedies

The current cast of The Ferryman in London's West End. Photo by Johan Persson. (Courtesy of The Corner Shop)

Staggeringly multi-layered, dangerously fast-paced and rich in characterizations, dialogue and context, Jez Butterworth's new hit about a family during the time of Ireland's the Troubles leaves the audience breathless, sweaty and tearful, in a nightmarish, dry-heaving haze.

"Vanishing. It's a powerful word, that"

Northern Ireland, Rural Derry, 1981, nighttime. The local ringleader of the Irish Republican Army gun-toting comrades ambushes a priest and tells him that the body of one Seamus Carney has been recovered. It is said that the man had spent a full ten years rotting in a bog. The IRA gunslinger, Muldoon, orders the priest to arrange for the Carney family not to utter a word of what had happened to the wretched man.

Keep reading... Show less
10

Aaron Sorkin's real-life twister about Molly Bloom, an Olympic skier turned high-stakes poker wrangler, is scorchingly fun but never takes its heroine as seriously as the men.

Chances are, we will never see a heartwarming Aaron Sorkin movie about somebody with a learning disability or severe handicap they had to overcome. This is for the best. The most caffeinated major American screenwriter, Sorkin only seems to find his voice when inhabiting a frantically energetic persona whose thoughts outrun their ability to verbalize and emote them. The start of his latest movie, Molly's Game, is so resolutely Sorkin-esque that it's almost a self-parody. Only this time, like most of his better work, it's based on a true story.

Keep reading... Show less
7

There's something characteristically English about the Royal Society, whereby strangers gather under the aegis of some shared interest to read, study, and form friendships and in which they are implicitly agreed to exist insulated and apart from political differences.

There is an amusing detail in The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn that is emblematic of the kind of intellectual passions that animated the educated elite of late 17th-century England. We learn that Henry Oldenburg, the first secretary of the Royal Society, had for many years carried on a bitter dispute with Robert Hooke, one of the great polymaths of the era whose name still appears to students of physics and biology. Was the root of their quarrel a personality clash, was it over money or property, over love, ego, values? Something simple and recognizable? The precise source of their conflict was none of the above exactly but is nevertheless revealing of a specific early modern English context: They were in dispute, Margaret Willes writes, "over the development of the balance-spring regulator watch mechanism."

Keep reading... Show less
8
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image