By Mike Romero
Toeing the line somewhere between blues, Gypsy jazz, and 70’s rock, The Cold Year is unlike any other band in the area. Along with their aggressive delivery and often abrasive lyrics, they don’t feel like a band that came out of Utah County, and that’s probably my favorite thing about them. Utah, especially Provo, has a bit of a reputation for putting out music that either sounds like it’s right off of an EFY album, is folk-pop or synth-rock, or all of the above. The Cold Year in no way fits that description. Their latest album, Praise The Goat – whose title in and of itself is an example of how different they are – is worth a listen if for nothing else but to see that there is variety in the Provo music scene.
I honestly can’t figure out how I feel about this album. On the one hand, it is unique in the Provo scene. On the other hand, it feels a little bit forced and repetitive. Pretty much every song is made up of three or four chords repeated throughout the entirety of the song, and with only three members of the band, there isn’t much chance to add more layers to keep the song from getting stale. Other bands have that luxury, but that is the downside of being in a trio. They do take the occasional opportunity to throw in cool moments, like at 1:50 in “Hades,” where all of the instruments drop out except for the guitar before drums and bass roll back in together on a fill before a groove change. However, you have 1:50 of identical harmonic structure leading up to that moment, so I fear some listeners wouldn’t stick around long enough to hear it.
Most of the songs on the album feel like they were written just to have songs to fill up a full length, while others were written with more of a complete idea and much better execution. Songs like “Salted Floor” and “Oh Eve” prove that they are capable of writing great songs, but a lot of the songs on the album don’t quite land like they should. I know that the members of The Cold Year are all great musicians individually, so maybe other songs are written more in an effort to challenge themselves technically with less focus on popular consumption.
With some of my concerns and criticisms out of the way, I want to focus on the two previously mentioned songs that really stuck out to me. Firstly, “Salted Floor.” This is by far the most emotive song on the album, and feels very sincere. The way that it slowly builds throughout the six and a half minutes it plays is painfully beautiful, and its sudden ending gives it a feeling of incompleteness that is very appropriate for the kind of song that it is. Though I do not get exactly what this song is about, there are a few lines that really stick out to me. A line like “Why can’t I just follow? Why I must I lead? I will not respect authority, ‘cause it’s poisoning me” might give us an idea of what is going on in the head of lead singer Matthew Skaggs. Along with the great musicality and heartfelt delivery, the use of sound clips is fantastic. Their placement and use lend themselves to the overall creepiness and craziness of the track. This is about as perfectly arranged a song as I have heard.
Hands down, my favorite song on this album is “Oh Eve.” I know that this is great song because I really don’t like the fact that I like it. The lyrical content, and general message of the song is quite contrary to my own personal beliefs, and yet I still really enjoy this song. Again, this track feels very sincere, and I think that it is because of this that it is so good. It is obvious that The Cold Year have something to say in this song, and that is apparent when comparing the quality of its lyrics to some of their other songs. There is much more care in their phrasing, and there aren’t any forced rhymes like there are throughout the album. By far, this song has the best melody and is the easiest to listen to. The best aspect of this song, however, is the back-up vocals. There is a female “choir” (sounds like it is probably one female singer recording multiple parts) singing the words “Oh Eve” periodically throughout the song. This is the closest thing The Cold Year have to an ear worm on this album. Throughout the reviewing process, I have consistently found myself singing those backup vocals to myself.
As a whole, this album isn’t my favorite that we have reviewed here at Reach Provo, but there are definitely some good things about it. Specifically: the two songs mentioned and the originality of it all. As a lover of the Provo music scene, I am always happy to see all the different sides of it. Any lover of local music should give this a listen, if for nothing else but to see what else the Provo scene has to offer.