The Cowls exists in a sublimely sweet spot on the musical spectrum. A sumptuous blend of occasionally funked up indie and hypnotic electronica, their sound invites comparisons with the angular pop perfection of Scotland’s legendary Postcard Records at times, hints of Orange Juice and The Fire Engines welling up in the mix.
That’s underpinned a danceable take on early electro and modern left field pop, echoing Hot Chip and LCD Soundsystem in the way each track marries personal stories with melodic beats and an often introspective journey contained in the lyrics.
But most of all, The Cowls set out to entertain with their sound – it’s open, energetic and relatable, treating the listener like an old friend, inviting you to pull up a chair and lose yourself for a few minutes; or a few hours.
Though only formed in early 2018, The Cowls have already built up a decently sized back catalogue of songs – 16 tracks spread over three EPs between June and September this year. Such is the creativity of main man Damion Jurrens that he’s ready to drop another release in the form of the album Certain Calculations.
He says about the album: ‘On the eve of the release of Shake This, our third self-released EP, I decided that setting the audacious goal of recording and releasing a full-length album by the end of the year would push me to challenge myself as a songwriter and produce a large body of work in a short period of time.‘
Allied to that was Jurrens’ desire to explore and expand his musical horizons, channelling an innate need to seek inspiration outside his environment and incorporate that in to his musical vision: ‘I grew up in a very blue-collar environment and was raised on guitar-heavy American rock music. However, I always cultivated a strong connection to all sorts of electronic music – from Kraftwerk (which terrified me as a child) to Gary Numan (who introduced me to the joys of the Minimoog with Cars) to Depeche Mode (whose pop sensibilities and fantastic arrangements always killed me).’
There was also an element of a personal journey to recording the album and the creative process involved in coming up with the songs for Certain Calculations: ‘For reasons that are unclear to me now, I never felt as though I was allowed to truly explore those (electronic) influences as a songwriter. I thought that if I drew from those sources, people would call me out as a poseur or dilettante. So, I stuck to a narrow set of guitar rock influences and wondered why I had such a hard time finding my voice.’
He goes on to talk about the creative leap that lead his sound to incorporating these influences in to the new album: ‘Fortunately, I overcame that silly bit of self-limitation. One day this past summer, I was working on demos and began to feel a bit stifled. I decided to see what might happen if I started out with a drum machine and a synth instead of a guitar riff. The result was the song Shake This and the realization that I could do all sorts of fun things with my arrangements if I drew on the electronic sounds I had listened to since I was a kid. It was liberating. And I was hooked.‘
What followed was a blizzard of song writing, recording and production between the hours of 2300 and 0300 nearly every night that led to a total of 21 songs, which were eventually whittled down to the 12 that will feature on Certain Calculations, The Cowls’ debut release for AnalogueTrash. Jurrens says each song developed organically, but often from wildly different sources, be it a bass line, a guitar riff, a chord progression or a hook, with lyrics being added in the demo stage, the songs reworked and refined like precious jewels being set in a band of gold.
‘During those three weeks of writing and recording, I threw out any notion of workflow and just captured ideas as best I could, then mixed and matched pieces until a full song emerged. This lack of a refined approach was new to me and was incredibly liberating. Oddly, the resulting tracks sound more disciplined, refined, and structured than the Cowls’ previous releases.’
The lyrical inspirations came from his deep psyche, uncovering previously hidden thoughts and feelings that coalesced in to some overarching themes on the album, a subject on which Damion expands:
‘Much to my own surprise, nearly all of the songs were all about isolation and an inability to be heard. This stems from frustration that dates back to my time playing in indie rock bands in New York. Though I met with some success during that time, that success came as a guitarist playing someone else’s songs. My own songs never found an audience, and I felt a lingering sense of disappointment. That disappointment revisited me as I wrote the new album, and while the melodies are upbeat and optimistic, the lyrics are pensive and often profoundly lonely.’
Certain Calculations is anything but dark though. There is no wallowing here, no bitterness. The hooks are plentiful, the melodies are catchy, and the songs flow into one another seamlessly. There’s an honesty to the lyrics and a beauty to the music that can’t helped but get under your skin, lift the soul and possibly get you on your feet, dancing along to the infections beats and hooks that pervade the album.
Damion sums up the album like this: ‘I wanted this album to be an uplifting experience, and even put the biggest chorus at the very close of the album. By ending on a high note, my hope is that you will walk away feeling refreshed, inspired, and ready to listen again.’