It’s hard to tell what’s worse: Washed up pundits penning belated eulogies to rock ’n' roll or the resultant frothing from music crit’s more vociferous sector. We’d all be better off if we acknowledged that rock music, while not entirely dead, is still fundamentally stupid.
But that doesn’t mean you can’t like, play or complain about it. There is an entire message board dedicated to the mythos of the Donkey Kong Country games—I know this because I have hundreds of posts there. Back when the term actually meant something, dude, “indie rock” connoted a degree of self-awareness that even punk lacked—“the people’s music” had comfortably become an enthusiast pursuit. This was loud guitar music looking in the mirror and coming to terms with itself—a pimply conduit for a specifically adolescent form of Weltschmerz. Music for miserable teenagers made by miserable adults, to paraphrase Phil Spector.
Pavement, Breeders and Archers of Loaf records celebrate rock music while also subverting its dumber tropes. Like these artists, Nathan Tucker of Cool American loves what he’s doing but not too much. His impassioned vocals and his band’s hectic performances are belied by an observational disengagement. In an era of R.A.W.K. characterized by a complete lack of subtlety—where Enema of the State has become the musical Arch of Titus and bands release records mainly to promote their Twitter accounts—Tucker’s is a unique take.
Cool American’s first record, Better Luck Next Year, was a collection of homespun, acoustic pop morsels (think: Elliott Smith, not Jack Johnson) that hinted at a slightly self-conscious and stifled pop ambition. On his project’s follow-up LP, You Can Win a Few, Tucker enlisted a four-piece band, exchanging his Nick Drakian chord changes and self-effacing sensitivity for power-pop vigor and an assertive bleat.
The band’s new LP, Infinite Hiatus, weds the sheer songwriting quality of Better Luck Next Year to the muscle of You Can Win a Few. In simpler, clichéd terms (after all, what would an artist bio be without at least one cliché?), it’s the sound of a young band coming into their own.
Infinite Hiatus is also a great sounding record. This is refreshing in a genre still beset by dumb lo-fi artifice, with so many young artists self-deprecatingly “dirtying” otherwise sterling recordings, like if da Vinci had painted a massive yellow Stussy in the corner of The Virgin and Child with St. Anne. Infinite Hiatus is a record that demands to be heard: On album opener “Sockets,” every guitar arpeggio and solitary piano note lucidly crackles out of the speakers, before the song spontaneously erupts into a wailing indie rock anthem, enveloping the listener in a spate of electric guitar fury—shoegaze for people concerned about tinnitus, a la Catholic Education-era Teenage Fanclub.
As textured as Infinite Hiatus is, and as tight as Cool American have become as a unit, many of these songs could stand on their own with just Tucker and an acoustic guitar. Beyond being a rock band, Cool American are a song band, and it’s clear that Tucker has studied the craft. His chord changes are erratic, but always deliberate; his compositions are filled to the gunwales with pop hooks and instantly hummable refrains; and his lyrics, while consistently trenchant, are never too transparent. Like the late, great Elliott Smith, Tucker’s songs manage to be both personal and impressionistic. He writes about scene sycophancy and interpersonal dolor from the vantage point of an undercover reporter. He thinks he’s above all of that shit, and that’s because he is. - Mo Troper, 2017
"Honest and gleaming, reckless and undeterred, Infinite Hiatus is a glowing soundtrack to the season."
"Nathan Tucker aspires to a grand tradition of disillusioned and self-lacerating songwriters, his voice a patchwork of the genre’s distinct totems such as Jake Ewald, Justin Pierre, and Jeremy Enigk."
"Tucker and company [work] their way through wordy, introspective rock songs with confidence."
"Of course, most bands don’t want to be tied to a trend or compared to an ancient forbearer, no matter how credible that forbearer may be. And that’s fine: Cool American has the goods to stand on its own."
-The Portland Mercury