Once you’re finished with this round, you’ll definitely want seconds.
Music for Touching, the debut album from Brooklyn’s Cookies, is certainly a record that’s been fussed over. It was five years in the making. Essentially, the project is the brainchild of musician Ben Sterling, who was co-founder of the now defunct Mobius Band, and the LP underwent various stops and starts and periods of rewriting. So there’s a bit of a perfectionist streak that runs through the disc, and, boy, does it show. Music for Touching generally is pretty seamless, with songs usually segueing into each other, and it’s the kind of thing that resembles a Top 40 playlist mix.
Along with female vocalists Melissa Metrick, Areni Agbabian, and Ashley Giorgi, and help from session players such as Colin Stetson, who has collaborated with Arcade Fire, this is an album that is stylistically all over the map, but has a unified and coherent center. It’s actually a brisk listen, with enough poppy pep that you can shake two cinnamon sticks at. With Cookies and this songs on this record, I’ll be that you can’t eat them all -- they’re that filling. This is certainly dessert of the highest order, even if the second half isn't quite as enjoyable as the first.
Things kick off with “1000 Breakfasts With You”, which is kind of Sleigh Bells-ish. While not pushed far into the red along the lines of that duo, the song is certainly an effects-heavy slice of noise-pop, which ironically opens up with the sound of harps being strummed, before giving way to a subwoofer-shaking bass line and the album’s most memorable line: “I want to put you in a cloud and push you around," which -- yes -- doesn't make very much sense, but its absurdity makes it so memorable. The female vocals on the song are the icing on top of the cake -- or maybe I should say the nice white center in the Oreo, given the name of the band -- and it’s a remarkable start to the LP.
This is followed up with “Go Back”, which is a stab at new romantic-era ‘80s pop meets blue-eyed soul pop with male vocals that verge into Darryl Hall territory. The group is able to negotiate the sharp turn into a different style of music, and the change-up is appreciated as, I don’t know about you, but I don’t think I could take another album that tried to ape the Sleigh Bells formula. Treats was enough for me. Anyhow, had the album come out a few months earlier, it would have been a definite candidate for one of the summer’s hottest jamz. This all gives way to “July Seventeen”, which might just be the best and worst track on the record. Paradox? Here’s the deal: there’s a sweet. soulful keyboard riff, and heavenly female vocals. All good, right? The thing is, it’s a mere intro to the next track, as it lasts a paltry minute and fifty seconds. If anything, I suppose Cookies know how to leave you begging more.
This all leads into the similar sounding “Crybaby (A)”, which only just amplifies the bass line and accentuates the male vocals so that they sound a little like Prince’s. It’s a great song, but then things take another turn into “Spill of Sugar”, which is vaguely ‘60s pop-ish. It could be a lost Beatles song circa The White Album, if the Beatles were fronted by a female vocalist. Anyhow, it’s a real blast to the bloodstream, and the creaky keyboards give the track a psychedelic feel. However, as good as those first five songs are, the album does dovetail just a little bit in quality on the second side. There’s a weird interstitial track called “Introduction” (which is strange, for isn't that the kind of thing that begins the album?) and it really goes nowhere fast. It’s a faux funk number that devolves into a stew of sonic white noise. Experimentalism for experiment’s sake? You decide. Next up is the title track, which feels Billy Joel-like with all of its piano vamps. It’s catchy, but slight. All that it has going is the coo of female vocals, the bang of a few piano chords, and a simplistic drum beat. However, by this point, it feels like the listener has gone on a decades-spanning retrospective of pop music from the '60s right up to the present day.
But then you run into some turbulence. “Human Problems” is a song that sticks out like a sore thumb; with sound effects like someone twiddling a radio dial, and not much more instrumentation beyond that, aside from a stuttering drum beat, the song falls flat. “Katherine”, meanwhile, is an Afrobeat-infused number, which means that it would have sat well on the first Vampire Weekend album. It’s alright, but hardly original. Things end with “The Dream”, a languid pop ballad. Again, it’s not bad, but it doesn't touch anything in the LP’s first half.
So what we get with Cookies is stuff that you’ll want to devour, and then stuff that you might want to just nibble on. That said, there’s enough variety in this bag of treats to at least keep you on your toes and interested. Another thing that Music for Touching has going for it is the variation between male and female vocals, which, again, keeps things compelling and is a dose of candy sprinkles on top of things. All in all, Music for Touching certainly has a sweet tooth and is quite scrumptious. Some songs are better than others, particularly up front, but you have to appreciate that a lot of work went into this to make it run together as smoothly as it does. Honestly, while we’re on the subject of after dinner confections, this music could very well easily be played in a funky coffee shop; it is the perfect soundtrack to devouring some caffeine and having some bruschetta. You do have to wonder if this is a one-off project given the way it was put together. Still, here’s hoping that the second course isn't five years in the making, because once you’re finished with this round, you’ll definitely want seconds.