Coma Cinema, ‘Posthumous Release’ – Album Review
There might not be concrete proof that the Internet has accelerated the speed at which we tire of things, but observation and common sense seem to support that assertion. More often than anyone admits, we get our news and opinions from students -- individuals supposedly still learning but sidled with the greater responsibility of educating. Think about how rapidly teenagers change and consider the implications of placing them in charge of cultural opinions. In that light, is the speed consumption surprising?
Likewise, the old become old much quicker. Think about Conor Oberst, the songwriter known for his Bright Eyes project, who once screamed onto answering machines that are now as antiquated as the desktop computer. Oberst is 32, but he might as well be 52 in the eyes of the Internet. To some, he'll only be relevant again when his classic albums hit anniversaries that can be divided by five.
Likewise, Coma Cinema -- a one-man-and-friends project similar to Bright Eyes -- is the stereotypical ADD-afflicted millennial, which means that you couldn't possibly stereotype him. The project's orchestrator, Mat Cothran, started as a teenager, just like Bright Eyes, and in terms of the vocals, he sounds very similar. The parallels extend on through to the thoughtful, honest and often disturbing lyrics.
To keep the Bright Eyes comparison going, 'Posthumous Release' might be called Cothran's 'Letting Off The Happiness.' When Oberst released that 1998 album, he was young enough to not worry about making a masterpiece, and the same goes for Cothran, who spends his time figuring out what works and what doesn't -- and hopefully who the hell he is.
And that is a tough task, given that Cothran also records and tweets as Elvis Depressedly, giving even well-informed audience members cause to question which project is his focus. While Elvis Depressedly has released three collections within the last year, the fact that Cothran flew West and rerecorded material with the help of TV Girl's Brad Petering and Jason Wyman, as well as frequent collaborator Rachel Levy, seems to put a weight on Posthumous Release that it struggles to bear.
Opening cut 'VHS White Trash' plays like a musical welcome mat, its biting lyrics and sense of mystery opening the door onto Cothran's world. Unfortunately, he offered the song a year ago on a compilation, and the earlier version was colossal in its emotion and honesty and greater -- both in terms of length and lasting effect -- than the safe album version he gives us here. Knowing what the song could be, one is inclined to question whether Cothran is moving to fast, and whether he might be better off saving the L.A. trips for his post-success Laurel Canyon jam sessions with members of the Black Crows and Benmont Tench.
And a "post-success" period may be inevitable, as songwriting talent like Cothran's isn't common, and those who are reckless enough to waste it still tend to find an audience. But Cothran displays a few moments on 'Posthumous Release' that capture his potential. 'Survivor's Guilt' is an open wound of a song on an album full of pierced arteries, but Cothran's declaration that he "can't be part of your life until I know how to die, all this wasted time to see your fu---ed-up life become mine" is a stinger that no rubbing can ease. The melody, timeless and seemingly stumbled upon, is gently draped over a cottony guitar and backing vocals from Levy that are ghostly -- barely there but not quite haunting. Cothran handles the haunting on his own.
'Satan Built a Mansion' is Coma Cinema at their most breezy, but the lyrics complicate matters, as the titular home was built for "love to go when it dies." Cothran says this album is a celebration of loving, and maybe it is, in a way, but anyone familiar with his Twitter knows the dark side that exists. It's who Mat Cothran is at this point in his life, and he seems reluctant -- understandably -- to embrace it.
Cothran's youth and level of maturity may be factors, and the album's weakest tracks are less poorly written than they are indications of poor editing. He should have nixed the drowning 'Burn a Church' and redundant 'Marie (No Sleep)' rather than include them here and bring the album down. And despite all his confessions and brutal honesty, his assertion on the title track that "no one has ever known [him]" rings too true, as our best sense of his personality come from outside sources.
On 'Posthumous Release,' Cothran essentially kisses a bride whose veil is pulled down tight. He needs to give us a slow reveal -- and he needs more patience and time to develop. Both of these things are rare commodities in today's music world. Here's hoping they're not forgotten.