So Cow: Meaningless Friendly
[Tic Tac Totally 2010]
So Cow’s self-titled debut achieved a potent balance of approachable songcraft and a manic shape-shifting personality; it all feels on the brink of combustion. The debut of Irish singer-songwriter Brian Kelly was a hilarious journal of adolescent stresses and the trappings of weinerdom. He recounts his unlucky streak through blistering nuggets of catchy noise pop, finely tuned and cohesively packaged. It’s such a shame that while So Cow pedals the line between tuneful pop and ugly calamity, its follow-up shifts so decidedly towards the latter.
Meaningless Friendly is weighed down to the floor with bells and whistles (and guitars). From the tinny beat introduction of “Start Over” and the drum machine humming of “Shut Eye”, the album reeks of over production. But the problems with Meaningless Friendly don’t end with production; production doesn’t change melodies and song structures 17 times in two and a half minutes. Kelly jumps from idea to idea long before any of them can be fleshed out. Tracks like “Limboat” and “Mokpo” feature some nice surf-informed riffs, but subside as quickly as they come, often succumbing to directionless noodling. Sharp guitar riffs attack from all directions producing a mayhem that’s more confusing and annoying than exhilarating. Good luck remembering more than two melodies in the chaos, even right after the songs end.
Through the sonic overload, Kelly is still a smart-mouthed twerp, but Meaningless Friendly finds him more jaded. Maybe it’s the louder, more grating vocals brought to the front of the mix. Or it’s just that Kelly sounds more bitterly at odds with the world: expelling his dissatisfaction and disappointments in biting sarcasm. But the delivery makes him sound less like the fellow unpopular kid and more like a whiny pessimist no one wants to hang around. The groaning “vroom vroom vroom!” in “Racer Girl” says it all.
So Cow’s second LP is undoubtedly a backslide for him. The regression reminds me of the relationship between the Dismemberment Plan’s …is Terrified and Emergency & I, the former being an awkward overstuff of delirious sonic details and lyrical themes, while the latter keeps abrasive lunacy on a leash and delivers a landmark experimental pop album. For So Cow, however, the chronological pattern is reversed: here his music has lost a sense of maturity. So Cow would do right to strip away the bothersome fluff, keep it simple, and get back to what made his debut so fun. And forget this.