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Album review: Cowboy Indian Bear - Live Old, Die Young

(Photo by Todd Zimmer) 

Cowboy Indian Bear’s newest record Live Old, Die Young is a mystical and massive full-length, 12-track LP. Spending the last couple of years crafting their sound, these boys and girl have grown into an entity all their own. Live Old, Die Young is one of the best records to come out of the Kansas City/Lawrence music scene since the release of Two Conversations by The Appleseed Cast. Cowboy Indian Bear has put together an album that is eclectic, dynamic, and enjoyable from start to finish. The only problem I have with this record is that my drive to work isn’t any longer and it’s impossible to listen to 42 minutes of amazing songs on a 20-minute drive. Here’s my song-by-song breakdown of Live Old, Die Young. Enjoy!
“Washing” starts out the LP with slow, smooth waltz instrumentation that provides an excellent backbone for the four-part harmonies that carry this dreamy tune. Featuring an interesting stand-up bass and vocal break, this song keeps the same pace throughout. It’s a gentle song that isn’t overwhelming upon first listen and showcases many of the features that make Cowboy Indian Bear an enjoyable and unique band.
“Does Anybody See You Out” kicks in with a groove of multiple percussive instruments, a pick up from the opening track. At six minutes and twelve seconds, this is the longest track of the album. Its dreamy reverb-slathered guitars and keys coast with ease over the tight, intricate rhythm. Its catchy hook, subtle vocal effects, and all around progressiveness make this one of my favorite songs on the album.
Lyrically, “Barcelona” is my favorite on the record. The song shows the amazing imagery and storytelling abilities this band is capable of. The pace of the album begins to pick up after this epic tale about the beaches of Barcelona and digging up graves.
CJ Calhoun starts out “Seventeen” with a soulful acapella serenade. Katlyn Conroy’s voice sweeps in beautifully along side heavy driving bass, keys, and drums, and you immediately feel the power of this song. There is an anxious drum roll hiding in the mix that sounds almost like a helicopter taking off and it builds in a wonderful way. Conroy’s vocals outweigh the boys towards the end of this song right before it breaks into a dreamy feel-good noodle break. The song ends as simply as it starts.
Not breaking the two-minute mark, “Live Old, Die Old” is a trippy interlude track comprised of every instrument, including vocals, reversed. Though I tried, my stash of jazz cigarettes couldn’t help me translate what is being said/sung. Reminiscent of Minus The Bear’s “Highly Refined Pirates,” this interlude fits well where it is and shakes the record up a bit before heading into different musical direction.
The first line from “I Could Believe in Anything” grabbed me immediately with the sincere and certain tone of Calhoun’s voice backed by a super groovy bass riff and electronic drums. This short, harmonized chant and percussion-driven track might not be a standard “Radio Single” but it’s definitely no filler song either. It’s the kind of song that is best listened to at a packed Cowboy Indian Bear show after everyone has had a little too much to drink.
If track seven, “I Want a Stranger’s Heart,” isn’t the intro song for the next James Bond movie, someone in Hollywood is screwing up. Badly. It’s slow, sexy, reverb-drenched, and adds a magic touch to Live Old, Die Young. The smoothness of this song carries it until it takes a loopy experimental turn. I’m a sucker for reversed vocals and guitars, and these guys do it well. I’m not advocating this, but I’m sure they are saying something cool if you play the record backwards (but don’t blame me if you scratch up that pretty white vinyl).
“Cloth into Clothing” is a poppy, percussive song that showcases the beautiful voices of Conroy and Calhoun very well. This track is mixed in a way that will make you feel like you are alone in large empty room (possibly an abandoned church) listening to Cowboy Indian Bear jam. The raw, roomy drums really stand out, thanks to the nimble hands of Beau Bruns.
“Let it Down” is by far the shining star off this album. The lyrics are beautifully depressing and float dreamily over massive tom fills and melodic guitars and keys. Though the lyrics may give off the impression of giving in to sadness, the music is hopeful and uplifting.
I’m not certain, but it sounds to me that “Live Old, Die Old (I)” could be a trippy sped-up/reversed remix of “Let It Down.” It’s a nifty little addition to this record and I imagine offers an opportunity for members to tune or switch their instruments in a live setting. This track shows that they had some solid time to have fun in the recording studio.
Track eleven, “Jennifer, is a solemn song that captures the essence of a broken heart. In typical Cowboy Indian Bear fashion, this slow-building song adds a multitude of large percussion and perfect harmonies. Sonically, “Jennifer” strays from the standard intro/verse/chorus/verse/chorus/bridge/chorus/outro formula. Though it might not be one of my favorite songs off the record, it definitely fits the vibe and tone of this record.
According to the Hebrew Bible, Methuselah is purported to be the oldest person to ever live, thus making the title of the final track “Your Favorite Son, Methuselah” ever so fitting. The lyrical phrase “I’ve got an edge / I could be your scythe” creates the imagery of Calhoun bargaining with the Grim Reaper to let him live on as an asset. The upbeat nature of the song helps round the album out in a way that makes it nearly impossible to not listen to the album all the way through again.
Live Old, Die Young is a professional and beautiful record. Cowboy Indian Bear has worked hard crafting this gem and it shows.
This week only, you can listen to Live Old, Die Young at the link here. You can purchase it on iTunes and/or get the vinyl with an immediate digital download on The Record Machine store. Cowboy Indian Bear will be celebrating the KC release tomorrow, April 25 at Davey’s Uptown, with Palace and Heartfelt Anarchy. Facebook event page. Then they embark on a two-week tour (details below). The Lawrence release party will conclude the tour on Friday, May 10 at the Lawrence Arts Center with Spirit is the Spirit. Also, visit www.cowboyindianbear.com for more information about their tour schedule, merchandise, and all things CIB.
--Eric Fain

By day, Eric Fain sells used books to pay the bills. Most nights you can catch him at any given KC/Lawrence venue supporting and promoting local music. He is currently the most tattooed and hairy member of the Kansas City rock band, Clairaudients. 

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