Those in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones, but The Cool Greenhouse are about to shatter glass ceilings with their self-titled debut LP.
Having caused a stir on the underground DIY label circuit with their inimitable, infectious brand of lo-fi post-punk in 2019, The Cool Greenhouse’s debut album shows off a newly developed, fuller sound, taking their signature style to previously unexplored heights while doubling down on their tried and tested formula of angular motoric riffs and no holds barred biting social commentary. The muffled 16-bit drum loops have been replaced with a full kit, the nonchalant vocal delivery has found a new edge and the sparse instrumentation has been augmented by the band’s finally agreeing to leave their bedrooms and enter the studio, yielding a fully-realised vision with fresh clarity and depth that makes their earlier recordings seem like mere blueprints.
Stubbornly refusing to engage with almost every fundamental musical tool available (the chord, melody, choruses, even the musical change), The Cool Greenhouse have somehow managed to compile an album of eleven songs that often comes astonishingly close to pop. Their attachment to long songs with single hooks that steamroll through their entireties has not abated, but neither has their inexplicable knack for keeping these strange creatures alarmingly engaging and accessible when by all logic they should be irritatingly avant-garde. It shouldn’t work on so many levels, but it absolutely does.
A large part of what makes this a winning formula is frontman Tom Greenhouse’s way with words. Frequently topical and clearly political in some sense, Greenhouse’s lyrics side-step the on-the-nose delivery of traditional yawn-inducing political rock in favour of a strange idiosyncratic blend of pop culture snippets, patchwork narratives and oblique literary references. Bursting with humour and irony, the album deftly meanders from Rotary Club jumble sales to Margaret Thatcher’s living room to futuristic voyages into musical VR, taking aim at the gammon classes, rural conservatism and a host of other late-capitalist absurdities with razor-sharp wit along the way.
Discovering that The Cool Greenhouse’s first 7” magically mentioned his own name, producer, sound engineer and mixer Phil Booth (Sleaford Mods, The Wave Pictures) invited the group to record the album in his JT Soar studio in Nottingham. The old potato-packing warehouse offered the ideal working environment for the band, who recorded the album over seven days as live between kipping on its couches, 4am whiskey-soaked sessions and Mario Kart ’64 on demand. “The sessions were stuffed with weird little synchronistic miracles” Tom tells. “Discussing a song then seeing its title on a shop window, finding things in pubs straight out of our songs…these zapped me onto some sort of Jungian plane where I didn’t need to sleep and knew exactly what to do.”
Having sufficiently impressed Melodic Records enough for them to sign them on the basis of their first ever show, the band have continued to delight and disorientate live audiences in equal measure, supporting the likes of The Stroppies and Do Nothing. Also championed by DIY and 6 music, their upward trajectory shows no sign of halting as they prepare for their Great Escape debut, with a host of other festival appearances yet to be announced.
Our take: It’s no secret that we love the Cool Greenhouse here at Sorry State, and I was eagerly anticipating their first proper album after a string of great singles and EPs. I would have been happy with a Cool Greenhouse LP that was just more of the same, but they’ve changed things up a bit for the album. While the instrumentation on their earlier releases was minimal and mostly electronic (drum machines and Casio-style bleep bloops forming the biggest part), this album sounds more like a live band playing in a room, and the vibe suits them well, even if the vocals don’t pop as much. The songwriting and arranging style is very much the same, though. The Cool Greenhouse’s songs coalesce around simple grooves that the players improvise around while frontman Tom Greenhouse does his thing over top. While the songs don’t have distinct parts, it’s interesting to hear the players react to one another, particularly how they will often mark when Tom returns to a refrain with a complimentary instrumental flourish. It’s not unlike the way Miles Davis’s music worked in the 70s, or what Can did, but infused with the angularity of post-punk. Along with the instrumental changes, Tom’s lyrics are also developing. Rather than relying exclusively on wry social observation and satire (though there’s still plenty of that here), there are detours into the absurd and the surreal that feel like a writer exploring the boundaries of what is possible. If you come to the Cool Greenhouse for the lulz, though, there are plenty of those too, from one-liners like “dicks out for old Harambe” to more extended flights of fancy like when Tom reveals the Cool Greenhouse’s real purpose is to provide a glasses cleaning service. (Eyeglasses or drinking glasses? Answer unclear.) If you couldn’t tell by how much I’ve written here, I’m enamored with this album. It’s everything I wanted and so much more, reminding me of why I invest so much time into searching for new music… because there are gems like this out there, just waiting to be discovered and loved.