Cattle Drums – Sorta is the Best We’re Doin
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Cattle Drums have been one of the most frustrating yet rewarding bands I’ve ever been a fan of. Hailing from Oneonta, New York, they released their first EP The Boy Kisser Sessions in March of 2010, bringing a western-tinged brand of punk I hadn’t come across before. Imagine if Modest Mouse’s The Lonesome Crowded West was shouted, played on a dumpster guitar, doused in gasoline, and then lit on fire. It wasn’t necessarily groundbreaking, but the inane yet poetic lyrical content and rhythm of the vocals kept me coming back to it over the course of the last couple of years.
In the fall of the following year, they announced their debut full-length album and released a teaser called demo, for now on Bandcamp featuring two songs that revealed a more developed, hectic energy that suited the vocal style of Sam Judd perfectly. The instrumentation was tighter, filling in every space they could and really making the most out of the time they were given. They had seemed to come into their own and find their distinct sound, building hype and gaining momentum in the punk/math rock community.
Then they broke up. Silence for four years. Then in 2015, their record label, Jeremy Records out of Gainesville, FL dissolved. Die-hard fans kept pestering about the album, while others seemed to give up or forget about Cattle Drums altogether. Promises of the full length were teased on their Facebook page, but there was nothing concrete except for another unmastered single called “Thank You for Choosing the Blood Red Van” that was released on a compilation for The Ithaca Underground on Feb. 1, last year, breaking a three-year silence. More and more teasers came via Facebook, first a picture of a the album artwork, then an opened package on the floor, then, on January 18th, they dropped another single, this time a fully mastered version of “Hot Summer Shadow”, the twelfth track off the album. I was losing my dang mind at this point, because I had been waiting for FOUR YEARS only to be thrown peanuts. They announced there would be tapes, and then released a music video for “Sky Top Path” via Exclaim which you can check out here: http://exclaim.ca/music/article/cattle_drums-_skytop_path_video.
On Feb. 1, they opened an exclusive stream via the math rock blog Fecking Bahamas, and the next day they dropped the album on Bandcamp. All of my dreams had come into fruition, the fruit in this case being one of my favorite albums in recent memory, and a solid 15 tracks I will be jamming for the foreseeable future.
The album kicks off with a calm campfire song, thirty seconds of a bouncing guitar riff and catchy whistling. Sam’s vocals seem to come from out of a tin can sitting next to the fire, slowly making your head sway to and fro. While lulled, the opening of “The Splinter Sound” catches you off guard, a feeling that won’t leave you for the next 50 minutes of the album. Groovy chaos and unconventional song structures make up the entirety of this album, taking a bit to get acquainted to, but soon becoming familiar and welcome.
As soon as the craziness seems to get tedious, they throw a new sound your way. “Daydreaming About Your Head Bleeding” ramps in with a loop reminiscent of Girlfriends or Mylets, and kicks that bucket as quickly as it started. “Whistling Past the Cemetery” employs more endearing whistled melodies. The chorus of “A Street Shark Named ‘Desire’” absolutely rips, and is the last heavy part of the first third of the album. The second third slows down and takes a more spacious approach, relying less on the insane guitar lines and focusing more on dynamics and vocal melodies drenched in reverb. “Snowman Won’t Melt through The Beautiful Life Ahead “make up this chunk, a nice relief from the fire and brimstone of the opening tracks. “Skytop Path” features one of the highlights of the record, the quick starting and stopping of the phrase “DAYBREAK. MEANS. NOTHING TO ME.” is absolutely brutal. “Waking Up Blindfolded” and “The Beautiful Life Ahead” are the most introspective and revealing of the album, with the latter being a personal favorite. Both of them feel dream-like and detached as they weave together seamlessly. The last five songs on this record are the heavy hitters. They’re the singles that were released over the last couple of years, “I’m Glad…” and “Fattest Kid…” coming off of the demo, “Thank You…” coming off of the compilation, and “Hot Summer Shadow” being released on its own. INCREDIBLY worth your time, there’s not even much I can say to describe these. Check em out. The last song, “Death is for Everybody!” circles back on the campfire idea, with clapping, glockenspiel, and piano parts all rounding out the end of the album perfectly.
Cattle Drums seem to have a habit of testing your patience and immediately making you glad you stuck around. Songs such as “The Splinter Sound”, “Fire in a Tomb”, “Skytop Path”, and “Hot Summer Shadow” seem more like a bouncing needle trying to find its groove at first, but once that needle lands, MAN does it land.
The lyrical themes found in this album are heavily self-deprecating and anti-cop (what punk band’s lyrics aren’t?) and are executed in an almost feverish rant. Judd yelps about flying through the windshield of an eighteen wheeler, his dead cat lying in his gutter, and “teething” on a cops face, among other inherently unsettling remarks. His vocal style has changed somewhat coming off of the demos of 2011 and their first EP, keeping with the punk shouting but sometimes bringing in this pop-punkier whine I’m not necessarily keen on. There are paragraphs on paragraphs of lyrics for this album, and I highly recommend a quick read-through, because he has a writing style I’ve never encountered before. He shifts from quick fragmented quips to long elaborate sentences on almost every song, most of them extremely surreal.
The technical proficiency of these dudes on their instruments absolutely blows me away. Highlights include Matt Payton’s drumming on the last parts of “The Beautiful Life Ahead” and “Snowman Won’t Melt”, also Darin Gregory, Chris Cicoria, and Gulab Singh coordinating those incredible tempo shifts in “Hot Summer Shadow”. There is not a space left lacking on this album, Cattle Drums has jam-packed as much material as possible with the time allotted and amazingly made it coherent and groovy. Whether you want to call them math-punk, tech-punk, math rock or any of the tags they have set on bandcamp (“controlled chaos”, “hectic vibes”, “homeless soft grind”, and “metallic baby smooth” to name a few), you can’t deny that Cattle Drums has made a niche all their own. And that niche kicks ass.
CHECK IT OUT HERE: https://cattledrums.bandcamp.com/album/sorta-is-the-best-were-doin
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The Splinter Sound
“Death loves our scent, loves our posture, and it’s got more will than you got to live.”
Daydreaming About Your Head Bleeding
“The snake said to the fire ant, “Bite hard and burn all you can!” This is where my art goes.”
“This has been such a needed God sent dead-end (but I am my own murderer, a cadaverous road worker, and blacktop spews alongside my words)”
Whistling Past the Cemetary
“Whistling past the cemetery, planning on a next move to call it a day without moving in here. Mamma do I got a case of that casket fate? “You got a date with death, it’s your first and last, it’s love.””
“Show me your bravest cop and I’ll show you my favorite pair of matching lead pipes. Anticipating your meaningful beating. Bit off his face judge? That’s just me teething.”
A Street Shark Named ‘Desire’
“Fighting off bees, slowly leading the blind with eyes married to stingers. Lynch mobs want blood and these noose bearers will be frozen in their tracks, tied to poles, and used as dart boards upon their last breath.”
Snowman Won’t Melt
“If you can’t see I’m enlightened stuffing road flares into these stubborn sockets. It’s a casket audition. I’m seeing great now with my eyes gone.”
The Beautiful Life Ahead
The whole song
I’m Glad I Cut Off My Legs
“I caught a fly reclining on a fly swatter and I found it rather funny that I got a kick out of laughing at something that lives its life just like me.”
“Death walks towards me without a limp in its step, so let’s walk towards it with some feeling!”
Hot Summer Shadow
“If your hands are free and you’re looking for something to do, burn the devil.” “It’s not hard to believe in truth when the proof is your breath, but it’s hard to look at a bullet and not want it inside your brain. It’s not hard to whistle the devil’s tune when you’re born with it stuck in your head.”
Thank You for Choosing the Blood Red Van
“Urgency, such an important word put to shame by me. So many selfish people taking everything beautiful and turning it into something evil. Leave it to one of us, leave it to me, I’ll take the sunshine and I’ll make it bleed. I’m the best part of waking up and I’m not ashamed of spending inheritance from ancestors on filth”
Fattest Kid in the World Fights Grandma for Front Seat
”Well don’t you want to speak in voices more than soundbites? Don’t you want to be the voice that says “I’m free!” Don’t you want to hang from clouds but not hang yourself? Oh, I’m a little bit of You but I’m a whole lot of me.”
Death is for Everybody
“Yeah I got my rabies shot the other day, and we’re moving forward, we’re moving closer to a foam free mouth. And if it gets to you that you’re living without a vision, better start fishing with lures more practical than your front teeth”