“There are people who even lack the courage to be cowards” – Markus M. Ronner
The Stranger calls Cowards “virulently anti-social,” Hellbound.ca (whatever that is) calls them affectatious, but I call them courageous. It’s easy to make music for people to dance to, or with an exhibitionist frontman that “connects with the crowd.” It’s much more difficult to play difficult music and own it. Cowards own their cowardice.
“For us, it’s always been an exploration of the more pathetic aspects of masculinity. I suppose that could be challenging to some people as it’s not incredibly romantic, nor is it entirely marketable as we’re finding out,” answers Spencer Davis, bassist and self-appointed most important member of the band. Despite this, they’ve named their forthcoming cassette World Leaders in Male Chastity.
The tape is a sort of retrospective of previous work with different singers. The first three songs see Keith Wecker (V. Vecker Ensemble, Aquanaut) immediately establish the Rapeman/Big Black aura, a sticky sheen of self-hate and seedy situations set upon a crunchy Pro Co Rat infected bass. The mood is re-enforced by Shearing Pinx’s Jeremy Van Wyck on “Wolf Wolf Wolf,” a howling feedback-laced ditty with reinforced keyboard mania.
Ashley Luk then takes the tape down into the demented goth basement for two songs where a wet banshee lives, wailing amid the dark, dank walls like a Sisters of Mercy music video. Kelly Davis of Fortress also takes a stab at two songs, a snotty shiv to the side of the ribs (“DTF”) and then some introspective recompense for good measure (“God Enough”).
But the best songs are when guitarist Josh Rose and Davis find the courage (see what I did there?) to step up to the mic while Corey Lee holds it down from behind the drum kit. They agree. “We thought a dedicated singer would let us focus on the music and allow for the freedom to engage with the audience that we didn’t have from behind our instruments. We were wrong. The three of us were pretty particular about the sort of ‘frontman’ and style we were after, and in the end, it just made sense to do it ourselves. It’s definitely streamlined the songwriting process.”
Now, they’ve added Mikey “Menthol” Willock of Peace as second guitar player. “He’s got a wah pedal. Expect longer, more soulful solos,” Davis says.
Expect more cynicism; more Journey to the End of the Night nihilism. Indeed when I asked what book they would write a score to, it was Celine’s 1932 masterpiece. Listen to Cowards and tell me this quote from the book wouldn’t sound apropos atop the brooding, hulking mass of World Leaders in Male Chastity — “I cannot refrain from doubting that there exist any genuine realizations of our deepest character except war and illness, those two infinities of nightmare.”
Or perhaps war, illness, and and a wah pedal.
Cowards release World Leaders in Male Chastity on May 2 at Red Gate and perform again on May 30 at a venue TBA.
By Sean Orr
Photo: Sylvana d’Angelo