By Dusty Ray
Eerie, lo-fi, and surprisingly catchy is the only way to describe the Cotton Keys’ recent release, Sweatshop Sounds. An array of influences reveal themselves on this album; sounds that range from Explosions in the Sky to Modest Mouse make listening a strange and unique experience. Lots of reverb, distant-sounding drums, distorted vocals, and droning guitar help create this abrasive sound.
Underneath the instrumental chaos there are some very good tunes, and the Cotton Keys balance the strange with the radio-friendly.
The track that best exemplifies the Cotton Keys’ sound is “Frankenstein Grandfather.” It is indie to its core, with fleeting and breathless vocals weaving in and out of instrumentation that appears to have been recorded in a submarine.
“Sliding Tiger, Slippery Snake” is the strongest track on the album; the vocals are yelled with unrestrained emotion, and the instrumentation gradually builds a feeling of tension. The album closes on a particularly surreal note with “Hidden Track,” a disturbing waltz that harkens back to the early work of The Residents.
Sweatshop Sounds can become repetitive at points; it falls back on similar hooks throughout the album without any semblance of theme. The “indie” sound becomes contrived at points, and lacks any significant focal point. Besides these shortcomings, there are some very excellent tracks hidden amongst the dense composition.
The Cotton Keys play what they want to play, and they are not shy to put forth their musical ideas, but this can come at the expense of the listener losing interest or becoming confused.