If lying on your back in a field, examining the clouds on a summer day had a sound; it would be Cookie Duster’s newest release, When Flying Was Easy. At the risk of sounding like your yoga-loving aunt; “sunshiny” and “dreamy” are really the best descriptors of this album.
Formed in 1997 and quietly put on the backburner after a self-titled release in 2001, Cookie Duster has been resurrected by front man Brendan Canning (By Divine Right, Blurtonia) after the dissolution of Broken Social Scene. Reunited with co-founder Bernard Maiezza (Change of Heart) on keys, the lineup is now a veritable Can-Con orgy; a tangled web of former bandmates. Damon Richardson (Danko Jones, Dearly Beloved) takes drums and guitar, with production and guitar contributions from Sir Ian Blurton (Change of Heart, Blurtonia, C’Mon) and bass-slappin’ from Rob Higgins (Dearly Beloved, By Divine Right and, surprise, Change of Heart). The only one who doesn’t really fit this mess is vocalist Jeen O’Brien, an established singer-songwriter, and former lead lady of grunge group, Lilith.
Like a good pop album should, the content is not as sweet as the surface wants you to think. Songs like ‘Space Will Follow’, ‘Standing Alongside Gone’ and the first single, ‘Two Feet Stand Up’ are simply joyful; capitalizing on Jeen’s ultra-feminine, almost cutesy vocals. However, heartbreak and pain do find their way into some of the songs, like ‘Living on a Fine Line’ and ‘Something Evil Again’ which slow things down, taking them a little more seriously.
Alternating between upbeat rock beats, robotic electronica, trance, and atmospheric, pseudo-spoken word; this album doesn’t stay on the same note for long. It’s a sonic tug of war; there’s simplicity to the sound, without it being simple at all. And its sleepy sultriness would wash right over you, save for certain elements that beg for your attention. Digital bits and pieces are thrown over layers of conventional instruments. Everything is lush; nothing is ordinary. Xylophones, strings and synths entangle to evoke images of jungle thunderstorms (see ‘We Stepped on Glass’), sun-drenched meadows, outer space, and flying.
While the sound is nostalgic and reminiscent of youth, you won’t hear anyone emulating preteen pop stars. Both Brendan and Jeen ooze a cool, self-aware maturity, a sense of experience. Oddly enough, their voices often rest on the same wavelength, weaving in and out of each other seamlessly, indiscernible, adding to the dreaminess of the album. Whether it was planned or not, the songs are almost perfectly divided between the vocalists, each taking the lead on five, and sharing the other two. Preventing When Flying Was Easy from becoming just a “chick” album or “Another one of those BSS spin offs”.
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