Photo: Lindsay Patkos / Courtesy of Sacks & Co.

Liz Cooper & the Stampede Deal with Reality on ‘Window Flowers’

Liz Cooper & the Stampede looks forward and backward, and her blacklight vision comes into focus on Window Flowers.

Window Flowers
Liz Cooper & the Stampede
Sleepyhead / Thirty Tigers
10 Aug 2018

Liz Cooper seeks to define her world first, and then figure out how to simultaneously settle into it and transcend it. None of this comes, as her band’s name would lead you to believe, like a stampede. When she’s out west, it’s cosmic country, but even that connection fades in and out as she mixes indie- and folk-rock under her psychedelic swirl. Now as Liz Cooper & the Stampede release their proper debut album Window Flowers, that blacklight vision comes into focus.

The band owes much of its sound to Cooper’s guitar playing. She frequently builds up patterns that are both loping and looping, occasionally touching without lingering on drone or trance influences. The fingerpicked groove builds the ambience as much as the spacey Nashville production does. Her approach has a little Kurt Vile flavor to it, a little Nuggets style, and a highly personalized sound. The Stampede build on her work, locking bass and drums into her patterns while allowing broader orchestration to fill out the sound.

From the first moments, Cooper tackles reality. “Sleepyhead” feels like a late-night mediation, but Cooper asks her listeners to “Wake on up sleepyheads / You can sleep when you’re dead.” Her concerns lie less with physical sleepiness; she turns her attention to the standard life pattern that dwells in a 9-to-5 work week followed by old age and death. The album works to overcome this sort of somnambulism, finding both what our world’s made of and how we can live with that knowledge.

Tracks like “The Night” and “Outer Space” offer little more, looking for escapism whether through dancing or getting high or taking a rocket somewhere else. These thoughts of flight stay grounded in reality. Cooper knows in “The Night” that getting away from your personal problems and the state of the world remains a temporary solution. The morning, you sleepyheads, will look different, but you still have the opportunity to choose the sort of life you want, whether routine or adventurous.

Matching the control of much of the music, Cooper doesn’t find the hope for this world in grand experiments. Relationships have a prominence here, both in “Hey Man” and “Mountain Man”, where finding yourself “curled up under a wool blanket” with your partner in old age provides its own relief and comfort (though the video for this one undercuts that idea). On Window Flowers, finding this sort of opportunity amid the meanness of a flat reality offers hope.

Coupling isn’t the only, or even the best, option on the album though. “Fondly and Forever” recognizes the way that romance can obscure truth. Cooper questions reality on the patient “Kaleidoscope Eyes”, but her journey takes a particularly inward turn on the album’s lengthy middle track, “Dalai Lama”. Harmonium and banjo combine for an East-meets-Pacific-coast romp. The band unleashes just a little here as Cooper tries to find “a way out of my abstract mind”. She looks for something more, noticing that “Jesus and the pills never coincide”. The instrumental portion of the song responds, building into something potent before returning to Cooper’s energized guitar cycle.

The album ends on a subdued note, just Cooper and an acoustic guitar thinking about what could have been. It’s a sad bit of picking, a brief farewell, yet still dwelling on (probably impossible) alternatives. Cooper ends the album with a “Goodbye, now” and a door closing, yet even as she faces the end of a relationship and the end of a record, she’s figuring out new ways to look forward (and up… and in).

RATING 7 / 10