Cosmic Horror is the genre created by the 20th Century Master Of Horror - attempting to come to grips with the vastness of the universe, and our insignificance in it. While Lovecraft's protagonists tended to shut down into madness when they realize they are a speck of dust floating on a speck of dust, Hamilton, Ontario's Cosmic Horror Story deal with the existentialism by coming together, gathering around the campfire in the endless night.
Cosmic Horror Story's music on their self-titled release Cosmic Horror Story doesn't sound anything like what you would expect from a band with Lovecraftian origins. There's no gibbering, no atonal warbling like the nuclear idiot pipers that pacify Azathoth. Cosmic Horror Story play a sharp and defined indie rock with razor sharp guitars, designed to make you dance all night long, while sweet, close-harmonies bring a feeling of intimacy and warmth, much appreciated in their nighttime nihilistic universe.
This could be a case of an indie band adopting a clever name to appear timely, if not for the snippets of field recordings - snapshots of the band's lives and creative process - of old episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents or Popeye. While it's not immediately obvious what the relevance of these particular samples are, they are compelling audio artifacts, providing an extra layer of significance and meaning. It's shorthand, to let you know that Cosmic Horror Story has something to say, and they say it well, without screaming their meaning.
"Vagrant" starts off with an Alfred Hitchcock sample, before settling into a poppy piece of indie confectionary sugar. Pulsing, plucking, strobing guitars flicker like a deconstructed pointillist painting, hypnotizing you into an altered state, while the glorious heavenly close vocal harmonies explode in a Technicolor daydream in your imagination. The clever structure on "Vagrant" is the next clue that Cosmic Horror Story has ideas for days. They are light years beyond the standard "verse-chorus-verse-chorus-chorus" pop format that I, for one, am so tired of. Instead, they fly off on flights of fancy and imagination. It's the difference between a surreal slice of flash fiction versus a Reader's Digest story. Cosmic Horror Story, thank the Elder Gods, are doing something unique, innovative and personal, within the confines of guitar-centric indie rock, whose current state is the real horror show.
"Green City" with its dreamy reverbed Fender Rhodes and Popeye samples, brings to mind psychedelic indie rock from the turn of the century, bands like Tristeza and The Album Leaf - always excellent, but understated and easy to miss.
That moment in time, when the indie universe was first exploding into mass consciousness, it seemed like anything was possible, that rock 'n roll could be sculpted into millions of fantastical and imaginative shapes. The fact that it wasn't, or that people stopped trying, speaks to people's lack of imagination, and the triumph of style over substance.Sometimes it seems that culture was on pause for about 10 years, frozen in carbonite, as we all tried to wrap our psyches around the reality of existing in a permanent now, directly linked to everything and everybody that has ever come before. The deafening din would have, no doubt, horrified Lovecraft, the eternal hermit, in his solitude.
When you embrace it, however, it is kind of like a God's eye view. It gives us the ability to take from absolutely everywhere, to tell old stories in fascinating and imaginative new ways. Why, in the name of all that is unholy, knowing what we now know, would someone ever start a band just to sound like their influences, or the flavor of the minute? It's laughable, and sad. Cosmic Horror Story still sound contemporary, like they could get a room full of people to lose themselves in sweat and shadows, but they're still telling a story, and telling us something about themselves. It's intimate and revealing, without being embarrassing or emo.
For every other indie band reading this, take a listen and take notes! This is how it's done. The only real fright here is how short Cosmic Horror Story's EP is. What do I have to sacrifice to get a full length from these guys?
Utterly flawless. Transfixing and sublime.
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