Masterful chameleon rockers Cordelia's Dad are back with a stunning collection of 14 rock songs on What It Is. It's a voltage-enhanced thing that was exercised under Steve Albini's (Nirvana, The Jesus Lizard) tutelage in 1997 and Mark Alan Miller's (Dinosaur Jr., Pernice Brothers) engineering hand in 1999.
There are collaborations with traditional fiddler Laura Risk (Greenfire), experimental trombonist Mike Heffley (Anthony Braxton) and even some overtone singing. From pure unaccompanied harmonies to hellish feedback, from the dreadfully bleak to the irrepressibly sunny, What it is demands that all who have up to now followed Cordelia's Dad's "folk" career scrub up a fresh ear for the rock side of the band. This is the most American of musics.
Chuck Eddy of the Village Voice compares "Camille" to the best of Jane's Addiction. Perfect for cranking up as you put the top down in the convertible and head for the coast. As the sun sets on the way home, put on the second half of the album, stark and mysterious lullabies and love songs culminating in the romantic 'ghost' story "Leave Your Light On." As a sort of bonus track, "Brethren Sing," sung "a capella" in dense 3-part harmony answers the lament "music alas too long has been, pressed to obey the devil" with an optimistic note.
While just a basic trio, Cordelia's Dad compose a far greater and larger sound than imagined, moving from the early alternative rock of the nineties Seattle scene with a tablespoon of jazz and R.E.M. traces on Upswing, a moody and winding track. Inhaler recalls Canadian cult rockers The Tragically Hip, a mix of jazz ideas on a slow tension building arrangement. Lead songwriter Tim Eriksen has a downbeat vocal ability like Dave Matthews and Michael Stipe, particularly on the somber and melancholic Eyelovemusic. A number of the jazz touches have a Middle Eastern or Indian element to them, as Five Way Flashlight exemplifies this trait perfectly. But the album's greatest asset is its ability to move through different ideas, none more so than the hymnal and gorgeous Despair, resembling mountain music. The highlight track would definitely be the stellar Rock Me (To Sleep), characterized by a deliberate hard rock and beefy rhythm like Led Zeppelin or even Creed. The quality of the music though can't be defined, as the group resort to a Ralph Stanley style on the final Brethren Sing. This is a definitive album that is not easy to define. - All Music Guide
"Cordelia's Dad may well be the first band suitable for both the alternative rock crowd and the congregation of a snake-handling church. Indeed, the group's rocking takes on traditional and sometimes creepy folk tunes bridge a vast culture gap, with delightful effect. The rock, however, has steadily slithered to the forefront on each of the band's four prior studio albums and on What It Is, the trio (Tim Eriksen, Peter Irvine and Cath Oss, also known as the indie-rock threesome, Io) again dials it up a notch (Praise Jesus! Pass the diamondback!). Sonically, some of the folksy aesthetic is lost, but the stark, vivid lyrical imagery remains (On "Camille's Not Afraid Of The Barn," a barn with a piss-and-cigarette stench is sung into holographic existence. The image of horror-stricken "Brother Judson" and his catatonia is depicted simply but effectively). That's not to say the rootsy sounds aren't entirely forsaken: "Dark and Rolling Eye" boasts the fiddle of erstwhile member Laura Fisk, and if you listen closely, you can hear acoustic instruments amidst the din. But why nitpick or analyze? What It Is is just plain good."
Originally a noise punk outfit, Cordelia's Dad is on the brink of releasing their seventh album to date. Featuring Tim Eriksen (vocals, guitar), Peter Irvine (vocals, drums) and Cath Oss (vocals, bass and accordion), with guest appearances by Mike Heffley (trombone) and Laura Risk (fiddle), What It Is melds folk and rock into a unique whole. Their pop sensibility comes through well on "Upswing," while tracks like "Despair" and "Brethren Sing," both of which are centered around chanting, display the band's willingness to experiment with different styles. Elsewhere, you can expect to find delicate vocals and moody guitar flourishes that exude a mellow sort of ambiance and mildly discordant tracks that prove Cordelia's Dad has not abandoned their roots
.- Ryan Mungia, Synthesis
With the resurgence of folk music in America, it would seem that a record like this would be the type that would light up college radio charts everywhere. There truly is something for just about every taste to be found here and the album maintains a sense of cohesiveness that is entirely unexpected from something that throws so many ingredients into the pot. The first half of What It Is is an exploration of a bunch of different folk influences. It's so far reaching that the trombone bleats in "Inhaler" aren't really out of place at all. Heck, next to the Tuvan throat singing in "Five Way Flashlight" they seem perfectly normal. Meanwhile, "Dark and Rolling Eye" seems like a Fairport Convention track that was picked up off the cutting room floor. "Brother Judson" on the other hand wouldn't be far afield on any Touch and Go LP. What's truly astounding is that this all holds together despite the fact that it was recorded over such a period of time. The earliest ttracks were done in Chicago at Steve Albini's, and these are the ones that hold a more feral edge to them. Apparently, they brought him east a bit later in 1997 to record a little more. These songs didn't amount to a whole record and languished unreleased. In 1999, the trio of Tim Eriksen, Peter Irvine, and Cath Oss tried again and got another 7 tracks down at Slaughterhouse. These later recordings have a folkier edge, with more acoustic instrumentation. But again the songs were left unreleased. It wasn't until last summer that the band returned to Slaughterhouse and mixed it all and out came this 14 song release. This is music that you'd love to watch in a live setting, but the band isn't doing that much (if at all) anymore which is too bad. Luckily, they've left behind a document to prove to everyone just how good it can be.
Wally Cassotto, Performer Magazine
Ahhh, a refreshing breath of air has been sent by producer Steve Albini to fill a musical void. This "folk-rock" band transcends categorization by experimenting with a collage of eclectic instruments and vocal stylings. "What It Is" features vocals reminiscent of Neutral Milk Hotel in tone, and of mountain top choirs in harmonies. Its rambling, ode-like lyrics are pleasurable enough to stretch a smile across your face while the snap-dragon drumming grabs onto your ears until the last track has faded. "Little Speckled Egg", "Five Way Flashlight" and "Hammer" spin stories around random concepts that wouldn't be too out of place on a Pixies reunion album recorded live in the Ozark mountains. I highly recommend this album for it is truly a well-crafted product of a hard working group of North Easterns. At the very least, put that Warped Tour comp back in the bin in favor of a band that defies conformity.
-Jaime Gadette, Slug Magazine
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Tim Eriksen Music- All Rights Reserved.