Today I’ve been listening to ‘Hospice’ by The Antlers and also watched the mid-season finale of the fourth season of The Walking Dead. What better way to keep up this run of miserabilia than by listening to an album by a band who insisted the audience ‘join them in Hell’ at this year’s 2000 Trees Festival? Cold Crows Dead is a collaboration between The Xcerts Murray Macleod and producer Paul Steel and ‘I Fear A New World’ is their debut album.
The lead track from last year’s EP, ‘Ghost that Burned Your House Down’, opens the long-awaited album and its haunting atmospherics are instantly alluring, as Murray sings with intense bleakness: ‘I’m not a shadow, I’m not a silhouette, I’m not the ghost that burned your house down’. It’s this line that will be in your head for week after listening, while the orchestral elements also hark back to Sparklehorse at their most touching. Following on from this is ‘Killer Party’, which sadly has nothing to do with The Hold Steady classic. Instead it’s a waltz-influenced and slightly cinematic 3-and-a-half minutes that also surprisingly holds a blast of experimental riffs and some excellent rock screams. With the 60s’ influence also shining through, this is an invitation you’d be foolish to turn down, even as the band sing ‘Everybody looks like they killed someone’ and ‘We’ve seen the dead, we consider them our friends’.
‘Loves In, Loves Out’ distressingly compares little kids to ghosts and once again covers the concept of mortality, but this time in a more emotive way that has an element of Low as the strings come in. It’s been well documented that this record has a strong Beach Boys influence and that’s no more apparent than on this harmonic and experimental track. ‘Deadheads’ brings a more grungey and bouncy sound, complete with a singalong chant of the title. A call-to-arms for the undead, there’s also the playful nature of Beetlejuice as Murray sings: ‘We watch you when you sleep’ and ‘we want skin and teeth’. Beach Boys collaborator Stephen John Kalinch delivers a passionate spoken-word speech on ‘Man in Bleak’ which has an apocalyptic feel and the final statement of ‘I fear a new world, but I welcome it’.
Other clear influences on the record include Bright Eyes’ louder and more progressive moments and the rhythmic and hypnotic intensity of Deerhunter. ‘My Shovel’ however, starts off for all the (dark) world like a Grandaddy single. A gliding slice of indie-pop, complete with entrancing synth effects, the song gradually evolves into something heavier that wouldn’t have sounded out of place on one of the great British emo albums from the early 00s. There’s a knowing wink in the ‘Penny Lane’-meets-power ballad ‘Screaming at Shadows’, especially in the chorus that states ‘Since my baby took her life, I found it hard to sleep at night, now I’m singing all alone, screaming at shadows’.
The final song on the album is called ‘Devils Won’ and is a fitting finish. Starting off as a gentle country strum, complete with glockenspiel, the song revels in the devil’s victory and the upcoming war this has brought in. Jangly and jaunty to start, the instrumentation couldn’t be more at odds with the subject tones, but then at the 3-minute mark, the song completely changes tone as pounding anthemics come in to finish the album in style. Cold Crows Dead may well fear a new world, but with them soundtracking our inevitable descent into the abyss, at least things will sound good in Hell.