Cowboy Indian Bear - Live Old, Die Young
Record Label: The Record Machine
Release Date: April 30, 2013
If there's an album more heart-breaking, intimate and plaintive than Cowboy Indian Bear's Live Old, Die Young, this writer hasn't heard it. The disc opens with arguably its strongest song, the seven-minute "Washing," which features vocalist CJ Calhoun's yearning croon, amiable guitars and a delicate and forlorn veneer that is equal parts hymnal, romantic and lush. To call it sweeping and cinematic is an understatement and the song is inarguably arresting and as stirring an album opener as any released in the last year (or more).
After a minute-long intro, the pensive and moody "Does Anybody See You Out?," carries things forward amidst a sea of guitars and keys that hum and buzz with a sprite sentiment akin to the flowerbeds of spring. Live Old, Die Young is mood music for sure and on the tranquil and understated "Barcelona," the quartet marries gorgeous arrangements with a sense of humility that is deeply important and worth revisiting. Make no mistake it, Cowboy Indian Bear have a pulse on how to write a song. Further proof of that on the album's first half is the bare-bones "Seventeen," in which vocalist CJ Calhoun does all the heavy lifting. For the first time, backing vocalist Katlyn Conroy enters the fray and her pronounced contributions should not be understated. When Conroy is singing, she adds a lot more depth and gives this band a jump on their contemporaries.
The first half of Live Old, Die Young grinds to a close with the co-title track, which ostensibly serves as filler and a bridge into "I Could Believe in Anything," the quartet 's most straightforward and accessible effort and a vocal that grabs you from the very start. Ostensibly a song about morality, "I Could Believe in Anything" boasts a giant chorus, a slight Vampire Weekend vibe and is easily one of 2013's most overlooked songs. If you listen to one song from Live Old, Die Young, make sure it's this one. The first half of the album closes with the defeated torch song "I Want a Stranger's Heart," a gauzy and feathery effort that rises and crests before fading out and submitting to vocalist Katlyn Conroy. While "I Want a Stranger's Heart" lingers long that it should, it's a fitting end to the first half of a truly exemplary album.
The second half of Live Old, Die Young opens with "Cloth into Clothing" a veritable call to arms that rises like a siren and coasts on forlorn falsetto and an ebb-and-flow that propels it to a stirring finish. "Let it Down" is a surefire crowd pleaser and seems destined for wider audiences. While "Washing" is a tremendous opener, "Let it Down" most certainly could have been slanted in the opening slot here. "Live Old Die Old (I)," is the second title track and another instrumental filler. "Jennifer" is a straightforward narrative that draws on Conroy and is a perfect time to mention that the band consistently underutilizes her throughout the duration of the disc. If Live Old, Die Young has any setbacks it is not relying on Conroy to sing more.
Unfortunately in the modern landscape that is contemporary music, every album has a dud and "Your Favorite Son, Methusaleh" is most assuredly that song. While it is easily one of the most upbeat, there's a lack of oomph and power at work that just makes the song forgettable and ordinary. Thankfully, the quartet closes things out with the timeless "The Hunter and the Hunted," one of the album's most complete, lingering and long-lasting efforts and veritable proof that in CJ Calhoun all things are possible. Having previously knocked the band for not utilizing Conroy enough, "The Hunter and the Hunted" is one of the only times on the album when her talents are put to good use. Equal parts haunting and hypnotic, "The Hunter and the Hunted" is as first-rate as anything currently circling the blogosphere.
Being that this is only the sophomore effort from the Lawrence, Kansas quartet, there's ample reason to think that Live Old, Die Young is just the start of what will be a lengthy and rewarding career. While many probably have their mid-year top ten slanted and ready to go, perhaps there's room for revision. Anyone who can't find merit with Live Old, Die Young most likely doesn't have a pulse.