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Death of the Cool *


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  • Cotton Mather, the power pop group led by Robert Harrison, released one of the most impressive under-the-radar classic albums of the '90s, Kontiki. It hit right in the sweet spot between the melodies of the Beatles and the flash of the Who, the clang of the Raspberries, and the sneaky wit of Squeeze, with one wonderful song after another. It was a hard mark to surpass for any band, and after trying a couple times and getting close, the band folded up shop in 2013. Harrison never stopped making music, putting out interesting psych-pop albums under the name Future Clouds & Radar. After an expanded reissue of Kontiki saw the light of day in 2012, Harrison decided to give Cotton Mather new life. Inspired by his studies of the I Ching, he set about writing a song for each of the 64 hexagrams. The initial batch he recorded with a new cast of musicians (and Whit Williams from the earliest incarnation of the band) form the first Cotton Mather album in 15 years, Death of the Cool. It kicks off with the romping "The Book of Too Late Changes," a track that seems designed to announce with no question that the band is back and hasn't lost a step over the years. The cascading drums, sharply jangling guitars, and Harrison's reliably Lennon-esque vocals make the song sound lifted right off side two of Kontiki. The production is a bit less polished, there's no Brad Jones magic touch here, but it makes up for it with the immediacy. The rest of the album charts a course from swirling psych-pop ("Close to the Sun") to tender country-rock balladry ("The Middle of Nowhere," the sticky sweet "Candy Lilac"), chamber pop melancholy ("The Land of Flowers," "Child Bride"), and strutting late-'60s pop ("Queen of Swords"), with every stop along the way as melodic and cunning as the best power pop can be. Throughout, Harrison's gifts are as strong as ever and the album stands on equal ground with the Cotton Mather back catalog. Not quite as breathtaking as Kontiki, but that would be too much to ask for. Landing just short of that mark is nothing to sneeze at and each and every fan of power pop should make sure to rejoin team Cotton Mather for this fine album, and for the next 53 songs too. ~ Tim Sendra
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