Brudenell Presents...

Cowtown - Free Entry

+ Nape Neck + Lo Egin

Surviving five years as a band on the UK underground scene is difficult to do, lasting for 20 takes a near miracle. However, Cowtown – Leeds formed and raised trio of Hilary Knott (keys/vocals), Jonathan Nash (guitars/vocals) and David Shields (drums) – arrive blinking into 2024 not only intact and able to celebrate two decades together as bandmates and friends, but armed with Fear Of… their first new record in eight years, and a collection of songs that hand-on-heart, away from the sales speak, may be their best work to-date.

“Anyone that knows us knows we're genuinely sincere about what we do and, most importantly, we’re genuine friends”, says Nash. “We play together because we want to and we make econo-positive jams because that seems like the only sensible way for a band to exist in the 21st century. There are more popular bands out there but in turn, we've not let the music scene/industry ruin our band or our friendship. We’d like to think that counts for something.”

Friendship can keep a band going for so long, but it’s more than that that’s seen this ostensibly DIY band enjoy European tours with heroes Deerhoof and Quasi, play festivals at home and abroad, and during several periods of time in their history become the most requested hometown support in their native Leeds for any touring band worth their salt – not to mention their own ability to continually sell out shows up and down the UK with little to no backing.

Other projects have come and gone – Nash perhaps most notably as drummer in Hookworms which has since evolved into Holodrum; Knott stepping further into the experimental undergrowth as Basic Switches, among other collaborative efforts – yet the band have remained. Their fizzed-up brand of Devo-esque punk full of pop smarts has never stood still, constantly being updated and tweaked to sound timeless and subsequently outlast whichever latest guitar sub-genre has cycled back into fashion once again. Always though, Cowtown have kept at their core a warm sense of humour, positivity and the cartoonishly abstract song writing sense that’s always felt like their own small corner of the musical world.

However, even they would admit that getting to their fifth album and third decade hasn’t been easy. Tracked intermittently from July 2021 to December 2022 and mixed in the winter of 2023 with Nash’s Hookworms/Holodrum bandmate Matthew Benn, Fear Of… was a difficult record to finish. Its title sums up the trepidation the three-piece had, like everyone else, of returning to a post-pandemic world. Why even finish the record? What would Cowtown be returning to? For a while it was implied that indoor public gatherings were the Petri dish fuelling the covid epidemic, leading to feelings of futility that were genuinely hard to shake – only furthered when the resulting limp back to normality became equally uninspiring. Fear has ruled from 2020 to the present day and shows absolutely no signs of letting up. A nod to Talking Heads' paranoia-inducing third album Fear Of MusicFear Of… is a fill in the blank deal. What do you fear? In the case of it’s authors, it’s practically everything.

More personally too, the group have individually suffered loss and other unusual levels of tragedy in the eight years since 2016’s Paranormal Romance. It was hard to ignore a wondering sense as to whether time was finally catching up them as those close to them departed. These losses have fed into the music and lyrics of Fear Of… This isn’t a Nick Cave record but if you listen closely it’s obvious; all is not well.

A 20-year habit is hard to kick though and the group came to the same conclusion as everyone else; which was to crack on and try not to fear the outcome – and so Fear Of… is here. Silly as it might be to say for a band whose members are living through middle age, there’s a newer maturity to Cowtown’s sound. That doesn’t mean a monotone faced dumbing down of the frenzied hooks and two-minute blasts that they’ve cornered the market in – heck, the 11 tracks here clock in at a combed 30 minutes or so – but there is the slightest of breathing spaces given here and there.

"Wonderboy II" is a typically all-guns-blazing intro to the album but then they just as quickly change direction, with the angular march of "Can’t Talk Now" that purposefully strides into a big chorus rather than rushing breathlessly up to it as they might have done previously. "As Close To Town As I Like It" meanwhile glides along underneath Knott’s more measured turn on lead vocal; she takes centre stage on "Sea Lions" too which recollects Dolittle-era Pixies in its ascendant guitar riffs thudding percussion.

There’s still plenty of moments where the trio take the clutch fully off, of course – "Thru Being Zuul", "Offend Kliph" and "Total Engagement" are three tracks that are the kind of giddy, breathless slices of pop punk (not that kind) fun that the band have made their staple over the past 20 years. "Currently Unavailable" meanwhile is a suitable rousing finale that touches euphoric heights. Ultimately for Cowtown that search for positivity remains their guiding force; 20 years in and at times it can feel harder than ever for the trio to find it, but Fear Of… is the sound of a band who can still find celebration in the simple importance of being able to make music with your best mates

Have a listen…

Friday 17th May 2024

Price: Free Entry

Doors: 19:30

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