Out with the old and in with the new! Just in time for Spring we have a fresh album from The Cowboys - now spread between their hometown of Bloomington, to Chicago, and Cincinnati. "Room of Clons", their fifth album, is possibly the group's most ambitious and diverse body of work to date. Those familiar with The Cowboys' previous output for Feel It - most notably 2019's "The Bottom of a Rotten Flower", will be well acquainted with the group's penchant for songwriting across the upper echelons of contemporary garage, punk, & powerpop. "Room of Clons" asserts itself as a varied hallmark of stylistic prowess, ranging from The Cowboys' trademarked Midwestern punk odes of previous work, all the way to a massive postpunk-leaning hit (yes, you're reading right) backed with a snarky pop number accented with kazoo that would surely please even Ray Davies himself. Further along, we're treated to several tracks with frontman Keith Harman taking the lead on piano, propelling his otherworldy vocals to the same towering clouds that Scott Walker and Emitt Rhodes occupied in '69 & '70. "Room of Clons" stretches even further, but never strays from attention, as The Cowboys delve into new, exciting, and largely uncharted territory - perhaps their most abstract work, but just as worthy as their now towering discography that never ceases to impress.
Our take: Indiana’s the Cowboys seem to be establishing themselves as the Guided by Voices of modern DIY punk. While the most obvious similarity is the volume of music they release (Room of Clons is, depending on how you count, their seventh or eighth full-length in six years), the similarities don’t end there. Besides the evident ability to write hook after hook, the Cowboys have a lack of fussiness that reminds me of GBV. While a lot of bands work very hard to make everything they do conform to some grand vision (whether it’s one they’ve developed or one they’ve swiped from another artist), the Cowboys seem to write and release music with the same nonchalance with which I make and eat sandwiches. While the recipes are all great, their ingredients differ from track to track—on Room of Clons alone you’ll find acoustic and electric guitar (the latter of which itself employs many different effects from track to track), piano, synths, and even kazoo. The songs also reference different genres, from the quirky new wave of “Wise Guy Algorithm” (which sounds like the Undertones meets Dow Jones and the Industrials) to the Bauhaus-esque goth-glam of “The Beige Collection” to the piano ballad “A Killing,” to the Kinks-style barroom jaunt “Ninety Normal Men,” to… well, I could keep going but I think you get the point. Just to extend the GBV comparison, the critical cliche is that their records are inconsistent, but I’ve never been one to go through an album track by track assessing whether I like each song. I’m sure there are people who could do that with Room of Clons, but I prefer to bask in the album’s eclecticism, to enjoy it like a travelogue of sounds, genres, and styles. I hope (and wouldn’t be surprised if) the Cowboys eventually have their own tribe of super-fans who immerse themselves in the band’s catalog with the devotion people give to bands like GBV, the Fall or the Grateful Dead. When that happens I’ll be gloating, telling the newbies about how they toured through North Carolina just about every year, never playing to more than a few dozen people but always ruling, and what a pleasure it was to digest their eclectic and brilliant discography as it came out. And, by the way, god bless Feel It Records for serving the cause for the past several years, enabling us to watch this long and rewarding story unfold.