A Cotton Mather Rebirth of Sorts

Future Clouds & Radar (Independent)
Future Clouds & Radar

By Kevin Gibson

A few years ago Cotton Mather was a WFPK darling and surprise indie hit thanks to the Beatle-esque tune "My Before and After," and an album called Kontiki that (to me, at least) sounded like the lost album between the Rubber Soul and Revolver LPs. But after just one more release (the unheralded The Big Picture), the Austin, Texas, band disbanded and seemingly faded into oblivion.

Nearly 10 years since his pop heyday, Cotton Mather front man Robert Harrison is back. Word is he was involved in a severe accident that left him incapacitated for a long period of time and the new album - actually a 26-song double album - apparently is the result of plenty of down time to contemplate life and write.

If Cotton Mather's Kontiki closely resembled the Rubber Soul/Revolver-era Fab Four, Future Clouds & Radar's self-titled debut is Sgt. Pepper's-influenced experimental pop. The album goes in many different directions, with brief forays into jazz and rockabilly along with plenty of psychedelia and experimental indie pop and a couple of toss-off things that really aren't even songs.

But for the most part, it's just a great pop album. While it isn't a rehash of Cotton Mather, there are moments that will make Cotton Mather fans positively weak with glee. Most of all, a big chunk of this stuff does what Cotton did for us 10 years ago - remind us of John Lennon both vocally and in songwriting style, but Mather's new bandmates seem to help these songs rise slightly higher at times.

The standout for me is the sublime, beautiful "Build Havana," which is about a troubled relationship. The Havana reference seems to be a subtle metaphor for decay and attempted rebirth, with the chorus "We could build, we could build Havana." Havana, of course, was once a flourishing city and tourist destination, but fell on hard times during Castro's regime and rebuilding efforts have been, well, slow.

"You Will Be Loved," which anchors disc one, may be the band's hoped-for radio hit. Its slick drum sound, tight rhythm and melodic horns bolster a lyric that, frankly, is among the easiest to discard of the bunch. As in, it's about love, which is the universal theme for pop music in most circles. Still, as much as I want to resist it, I can't. It's pure pop, delivered with a gentle touch and some nice production.

Other highlights are the melodic rock of "Hurricane Judy" and "Back Seat Silver Jet Sighter," the softly psychedelic "Green Mountain Clover," the haunting "Armitage Shanks" and the lovely pop of "Our Time." There are also some rocking moments, as in "Get Your Boots On," and a sentimental but not pandering tribute in "Christmas Day 1923." And the massive collection concludes not on a throwaway but on a solid psych-pop tune called "Safety Zone" that could have been featured much higher in the track listing.

While a couple of these tracks can be easily skipped, overall, there is a sense throughout that Harrison is back with a creative vengeance and feels unbridled by genre or boundary - or even a hospital bed. Maybe he really can build Havana, at least in a musical sense.

Get the vibe and hear song samples at www.futurecloudsandradar.com.