Editor’s note: Album review by Nathan Cardiff, introduction by Editor Fally Afani
In April of 2011, I got the first glimpse of what was to come from Cowboy Indian Bear’s Live Old, Die Young. They took the stage at the first ever Middle of the Map music festival and finally (after much success with their first album Each Other All The Time) started leaking some of their new music.
Up first, the gut-wrenching performance of “I Want A Stranger’s Heart,” a song that oozed sexual tension and wreaked havoc on your emotions. The Beaumont, which had been all abuzz with with outgoing and chatty revelers up until that point, had suddenly fallen silent while the calm and collected performers soldiered quietly through the song. You could hear a pin drop. It’s almost as though every person in the audience was holding their breath (and biting their lips) from the shock and anticipated excitement that came from a new song… but not just any new song. This was an OUTSTANDING, breathtaking, and sensual new song. They held that warm, collective breath under the glowing blue lights of the Beaumont through the very end of the three-and-a-half minute performance, at which point they released a hearty (and well-deserved) climactic cheer.
I’m not sure what the four mild-mannered and uber-polite Kansas kids on that stage knew what they had just done. Beautiful music just comes naturally and effortlessly to them, but we’re beyond the point of lovely indie rock ballads now. These songs are game changers.
Over the next couple of years, we were graced with more tracks from the new album. We’d hear new songs in all manners, from under dim lights on the Jackpot stage to a full-costumed and glitzy Halloween show at the Granada. They even scored a couple of major opportunities, including opening for Florence and the Machine. It soon became apparent across Lawrence and even well into Kansas City that this was the album that was finally going to put Cowboy Indian Bear on a national map.
But it all began with that Spring afternoon onstage at the Beaumont. To this day, out of all the photos and videos I’ve shot of Cowboy Indian Bear, after all the live performances I’ve followed ever so religiously (missing only three local shows since 2008), that performance (posted below) of “I Want A Stranger’s Heart” remains my favorite. As I saw it, this was the exact moment Cowboy Indian Bear stepped up their game and gave us fair warning of what was going to happen in 2013 and beyond.
by Fally Afani, Editor of I Heart Local Music, lover of local music, and dedicated Cowboy Indian Bear fan.
Cowboy Indian Bear – “Live Old, Die Young”
by Nathan Cardiff
If it wasn’t official before, you can bet on it now: Cowboy Indian Bear has cemented itself in the pantheon of great Lawrence bands. Or great Midwest bands for that matter. For years, loyal Lawrencians and fans from all over these United States have been watching and listening to the quartet grow and evolve to the incredible band they are today. This is not particularly earth-shattering news; local venues are packed to the gills when they headline or play with touring national acts or their friends from around town. But this new record, Live Old, Die Young, has placed them at the top of their game and as listeners, we couldn’t be luckier to experience it. As far as a legacy goes, this album is a great representation for a band that has worked incredibly hard to put out a beautiful piece of art.
From the start, we are invited to march with the band on the waltzy song “Washing.” Or could it be that we are invited to dance with them? In either case, Cowboy Indian Bear is taking the lead and we just have to let them take our hand. Fearless and honest from the beginning, we hear them sing “My love is washing away…” and the song has the rhythm of waves crashing on the shore. It makes you sway like a ship in your partner’s arms, as you dance from side to side.
Live Old, Die Young basks in avant-garde rock; the instrumentation is innovative, experimental, and always compelling. And they can still write damn good pop songs (“Let It Down” & “Your Favorite Son, Methuselah”). The six-minute single “Does Anybody See You Out?” boasts a stunning chorus with art-rock layering throughout. The lyrics on the record can simultaneously comfort and devastate. “Fickle friend, my gentle lover” they croon on “Seventeen,” the harmonies keeping pace with the drums on a steady climb that crescendos with the voices rising to a heartbreaking climax. The harmonies between CJ Calhoun, Marty Hillard, Katlyn Conroy, and Beau Bruns are fantastic. “I Want A Stranger’s Heart” juxtaposes crashing guitars with soft “oohs” and a beautiful keyboard that gives the four and a half minute track a sweeping, grandiose personality. Hillard’s vocals are airy and eerie. Emotions are high on the album and maybe most prevalent on the final track “The Hunter And The Hunted.” “It’s gonna pick you up/put you down/hand to God/Devil’s crown” is one of the best lyrics I’ve ever heard and the band turns into a choir that trails through the last half of the song, carrying the record to its final rest.
I never thought I could focus on a album’s production quality, but I would be foolish not to mention how perfect the record sounds. Every instrument, even at its most subtle moments comes out and the vocals (much like their live sound) stand out above all and reach right into your heart. The percussion and keys get as much attention as the guitars and the sound wraps you up in a staggering embrace. Twice during the album, we are treated to interludes titled “Live Old, Die Old (IV & I).” Fans who got the four track single were treated to an almost five minute version of “Live Old, Die Old” which features instruments and vocals looped backwards (and another occurrence at the end of “I Want A Stranger’s Heart” as well). These brief tracks serve as more than just a moment of reflection, they reiterate the album’s title. This kind of backwards logic of living old and dying young, instead of a more classical approach that would suggest the opposite. It’s rebellious and radical and reminds you of how young the band is; they may have old souls, but they are in their prime.
Live Old, Die Young is an incredible accomplishment. A stellar sound, haunting from beginning to end, a record that will be discussed and appreciated for a long time. Cowboy Indian Bear has captured the loveliness, ugliness, and fleetingness of youth in thirteen songs. They possess a strength and wisdom that can be intimidating, but comforting. Looking for answers? Look no further. Here they are.
Favorite Tracks: “Seventeen,” “I Want A Stranger’s Heart,” “The Hunter And The Hunted”
by Nathan Cardiff