State Cows - The Second One (2013)

State Cows
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I seemed to be vexed with gloom when I heard the earliest samples of State Cow’s sophomore disc, The Second One. They didn’t grab me, not like the first disc. And sometimes it’s like that: 60-second samples can either drain the optimism from the room by focusing on the dry areas of a song or they can surprise you with sweet melodies and delicious lyricism. When the opportunity came around for me to hear the whole package, everything that had been previously calculated in my clod of opinion had completely vanished.

I seemed to be vexed with gloom when I heard the earliest samples of State Cow’s sophomore disc, The Second One. They didn’t grab me, not like the first disc. And sometimes it’s like that: 60-second samples can either drain the optimism from the room by focusing on the dry areas of a song or they can surprise you with sweet melodies and delicious lyricism. When the opportunity came around for me to hear the whole package, everything that had been previously calculated in my clod of opinion had completely vanished.

At first listen, The Second One cleverly traces the studio rock mold that turned the Steely Dan-loving combo – including Daniel Andersson and Stefan Olofsson – into a runaway hit on their 2010 self-titled effort. At times, it even duplicates all that Dan-ness from one meter to the next. With that very assessment, one wonders if there’s any room left for the group to grow, if it’s possible to travel outside the exterior of Doobies soul and ‘80s pop-rock and to incorporate yet another layer of sophisticated fun to their musical DNA? Thankfully, State Cows proves within the course of fifty minutes that they are dedicated crafters of the pleasurable artsy album and are not in the business of developing jingles spearheaded with obsessively candy-coated hooks. While holding tight to their ‘80s-worshipping mystique and picking up everything from Toto to Hall & Oates, the band also doubles up on their “fair and balanced” guest list, including: Chicago alum Bill Champlin; Alan Parsons Project’s Ian Barrinson; talented Swedes’ Peter Friestedt, Peter Olofsson and Sven Larsson; and, L.A. guitar legends Jay Graydon and Michael Landau. Even Andersson, State Cows’s prominent lead singer, steps to the side long enough to allow Champlin to get his gritty blue-eyed soul stamped to “Finally Fair and Balanced.”

It is quite obvious the album is packed with studio star power, but the treasure of tunes proves to be just as sublime – even though the sound bite samplers hardly prove that. “Hard Goodbye” opens with the dreamy dissonance of Foreigner’s “Waiting for a Girl Like You” before it picks up its tempo and synth-y dance with Robbie Dupree’s “Steal Away.” On “Scofflaws,” the George Benson-ish guitar solos and Michael McDonald radio pop trademarks ring out loud, transporting you back to “Lost in a Mind Game.”

Second One favorites like “In the City” and “I Got Myself Together” are bound for multiple repeats, as they cheerfully transport listeners into a sunny California oasis. The album’s definite standout, “Mister White,” is just as big as their previous hit, “New York Town.” It is embellished with sneaky bass lines, sneakier chord placements and mysterious subject matter: “Call for Mister White/Then I’ll be just fine/Dialing 905/Help me kill some time.” The lyricism inside “Mister White” is of the beatnik kind, a pattern that once again turns up the Fagen/Beckner volume. You can easily smell Royal Scam danger when Andersson sings, “How do people stay alive/When they’re on a crashing dive?” This is what State Cows does oh so well. They adequately discover a delicate jazzed-up groove, spice it up using ambitious guitar solos, wrap themselves around witty Stevie Wonderistic chord progressions, add rollercoaster bravado to their signature innovations and watch from a distance as the pieces fall where they please.

Some of the grooves take a little time to grow on the average ear, particularly the workouts hinged to the back of the set ("California Gold,” “Nineteen Eighty-One”). And the choice of cutting a moderate version of “Center of the Sun,” exchanging the bubbly disco beats of the original for a more placid and simpler drive that feels like it’s been executed by a drum machine, seems a bit perplexing. Still, those hurdles aren’t impossible to jump. As a follow-up, The Second One – cleverly nicknamed – picks up where they left off and travels to a place that sounds so familiar but yet so distant. The flying VW California plastered on the cover art probably sums up the disc best. Highly Recommended.

By J Matthew Cobb

 

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