The Cowls: 360º and Mac & Cheese
Late in 2018 360ºSound was turned on to the music of The Cowls. Very early in 2019, I sat down with the band’s main man, Damion Jurrens, for a lovely conversation over dinner.
I met up with Damion at Homeroom: mac+cheese in Oakland, California and we chatted about the new offering from The Cowls, Certain Calculations. Damion had amassed a number of songs, and paired it down to 12 tracks that have been stylistically compared to the likes of LCD Soundsystem, Hot Chip, and indie-electronic notables Park Hotel. He claims influences like Gary Numan, Depeche Mode and Kraftwerk. He explained that as a kid he always appreciated the new-wave, synth-pop sound but, growing up in blue-collar Saginaw, Michigan, found little opportunity to explore these sounds with his peers. He has since become a bit itinerant, living in Portland, Boston, Brooklyn, and now the SF Bay Area where he lives with his wife and two children.
While in Brooklyn, Damion played guitar with indie rock act Takka Takka (worth a listen) which met with some success, including touring with Clap Your Hands Say Yeah in the mid-aughts. Although good experience, I gathered that the indie rock scene in general, and playing other people’s songs in particular, was not as fulfilling as his current Cowls project. Damion was animated when he spoke of the new album and his new-found sound, combining tightly layered synth, drum machines and indie guitar with his semi-dark, cryptic and personal lyrics. Damion is charting his own course now, and he’s proud of the unique electronic style that emerged which elevates his music beyond his indie-rock past. Certain Calculations feels like the culmination of a musical journey, synthesizing new ideas with past and current life experiences.
“Wait Don’t Wait” sets the table for the album with prominent electronic drums, multiple synths, solid vocals, and jagged post-punk guitar riffs. “Doesn’t Feel Like It” is a dark electro anthem, mesmerizing with its repetitive chorus and wall-of-keyboard effects that have distinct Gary Numan qualities. “Lo and Behold” has a catchy pop keyboard intro and ends with an endearing vocal impersonation of Manchester’s favorite son, Morrisey. “Outside” kicks off like “White Horse” by Laid Back, with a sleazy electro post-disco feel. A vigorous tambourine jumps in halfway through and stays for tea.
The standout dance track “Shake This” (club remix) pays homage to the Alan Wilder-years of Depeche Mode. It was originally a two-minute track, but when it caught the ear of a Danish internet station that only plays five-minute tracks, Damion decided to remix it to meet their requirement. The result is a polyphonic synth-pop excursion, with airy and warm guitar strums throughout. The lyrics are a dark melodic ear-worm not to be taken lightly. (I’d like to hear a deep-house remix of it.)
Certain Calculations is sensitive, determined, and fragile. I love the synth-pop electro beat, and the vocals that combine delightful word-play with husky harmonies. The collection is built on punchy guitar and keyboard, but pay special attention to the powerful melodic bass lines throughout the recording.
This was going to be a self-released album until the progressive label AnologueTrash out of UK smartly signed The Cowls. Good on them. When I asked about the cassette release (the only physical way to own the album) Damion quipped that he recently received a cassette player from his wife as a gift, so he now has something to play it on.
This is just what I needed to jump-start my new year — a convivial, mature album with more than a touch of melancholy to keep it real. These profound songs will appeal to those still feeling a bit stretched by life. It was a true pleasure to sit with this sincere, introspective gentleman and share a meal. Thanks very much indeed, Damion.
The Cowls is essentially Damion Jurrens. The album, Certain Calculations, is out now. Listen here.