The Halls of Wickwire is the third full-length album from Halifax-based duo Cousins. Released through Toronto’s indie label Hand Drawn Dracula and New York’s Ba Da Bing Records, and produced by Graham Walsh (Lights, Holy Fuck), this is perhaps Cousins’ most mature and calculated record to date.
Releasing about an album a year since forming in 2009 and attaining a tour record that shows more city dates then days off, it’s not surprising that Cousins are being heralded as the “hardest working band in Halifax”. The band, made up of just two members–Leigh Dotey (drums, vocals) and Aaron Mangle (guitar, vocals)–shows the kind of harmony that can only be achieved through years of playing and writing together.
The album opens with “Phone”, an angelic upbeat piece. Like much of this album, the song lulls you into a repetitive trance only to be jolted back into the mvusic as soon as a new element is introduced. “Other Ocean” and “Alone”, the second and third tracks of the, seem to keep with the same upbeat tone. A mix of ’60s pop and ’70s punk, the opening tracks set paradoxical tones to Cousins’ sound: uninhibited yet calculated, cheerful yet disconsolate.
“At Odds”, is where The Halls of Wickwire takes a darker, gloomier turn. The song lets you drift away just long enough to be bombarded with the roaring vocals of the chorus. “Death Man”, the fifth track, proclaims in the opening lyrics: “I am the death man, coming to take your life away, coming to kill your family”. However, despite the dark subject matter the song is at the same time hopeful. The dueling vocals intertwine conversationally, and play their roles perfectly as two sides of the gender coin.
“Body” and “What’s Your Name” also exhibit the call-and-response elements that have become somewhat representative of The Halls of Wickwire. The vocals on “Body” are almost unrecognizable, showing the chameleon-like features Cousins so often display; it is hard to believe that there are only two voices on this record. Like a slow highway chase, “Body” takes you where it wants, but at its own speed. “What’s Your Name” is probably the most punk-driven song on the album, filthy yet sweet.
“Mess”, is the track that has been publicized the most. It’s a good choice–with the fuzzy guitars, guttural drawl and angelic vocals, “Mess” really has a piece of every track. It’s a happy sort of sadness presented through unclean yet perfectly intended instrumentals.
The album closes with “Singing”. Fittingly bipolar, it seems like the song is taking us through a final farewell walk by the shore. As Dotey and Mangle sing, “This is the last time we’ll play this song”, they sound sincere, yet at the same time a window is left open for a return.
I’ve never visited Halifax, but I feel like The Halls of Wickwire would be the region’s soundtrack: melancholy, maybe at times depressing and uncertain, but also hopeful and always well-intended. You can take the band out of Halifax but you can’t take Halifax out of the band. Overall, Cousins sound like what you would imagine The Beatles and The Sex Pistols child would sound like if that child grew up in Halifax with Courtney Love for a stepmom and Jeff Buckley as their deadbeat stepdad.
See Cousins on tour with Chad VanGaalen.
The Halls of Wickwire comes out May 13, 2014.
Check out Cousins!
Author: Tanya Natapov