- Cosmic the Cowboy, Modern Country
(Self-released, cassette, digital)
It's estimated that the first radio signals transmitted from Earth have traveled roughly 100 light-years deep into the Milky Way by now. It's a big, wide galaxy we call home, so who's to say there aren't hot spots along the way where travelers can stop to take in some Gene Autry, or bump some classic hip-hop at the edge of local space?
Should this turn out to be true, extraterrestrial listeners will be intrigued when they stumble across Cosmic the Cowboy. The Burlington psych-rock artist's latest offering, Modern Country, is one of the best road trip albums to come out of the local scene in a while. Humans may need psychedelics to get the interstellar experience, but even stone sober and stationary, these songs travel well.
Kicking off with "On Your Own," the record puts a sparkling, dream-pop foot first. Shifting back and forth from synth-heavy verses to the gritty, rocking stomp of the choruses, the tune is a good primer for what Cosmic and his band are all about. The LP's following eight tracks veer across the spectrum, from swamp rock and British Invasion-era blues to shoe gaze and alt-country accents.
Cosmic the Cowboy — real name Trevor Sohnen — is a songwriter with many gears, and he shifts among them on Modern Country. He leads the band into a hillbilly punk rave-up on "Bad Actor" before moving into pure indie-slacker mode with "Cruise Control." Sohnen excels at channeling a specific form of ennui through his voice. Reminiscent of songwriters such as Kurt Vile and Pavement's Stephen Malkmus, his sound injects emotional weight into lyrics such as "I'm coming on cruise control to the edge of the world."
"Going Along" features Sohnen playing a gorgeous falsetto vocal against his own pedal steel. He handles quite a few of the instruments on the album himself, though he's ably assisted by a rotating cast of stellar players. More than a dozen guest musicians turn up on Modern Country, which highlights Sohnen's abilities as a bandleader. That game of musical chairs doesn't detract from the record's dreamlike flow, however — in fact, one gets the impression Sohnen knew exactly what he was doing when he cherry-picked the musicians for the LP.
Choosing an album highlight is tough, but "Old Flame" might be the heavyweight. Sohnen's hushed melody floats over a driving rocker as he laments the dangerous gravitational pull of an ex-lover. "Old flame / These are old games / Don't come around," he sings, before slide guitar and synth collide in a splash of neon-lit melody.
A follow-up to Sohnen's 2020 debut, On Brand, Modern Country is as good a second album as you'll find. Avoiding the dreaded sophomore slump, Sohnen takes a striding step forward with an LP that showcases both a talented songwriter and a fascinating sonic tapestry.
Listen to Modern Country at cosmicthecowboy.bandcamp.com.