Two Cow Garage – Speaking in Cursive

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Two Cow Garage Speaking in Cursive

Two Cow Garage whip out all the pop formulas with Speaking in Cursive. The former garage rock band reinvents itself as a conventional pop band on an album that bears little trace of the grit that endeared their previous effort, III. The lyrics on Speaking in Cursive still reference overflowing ashtrays, but unfortunately the new sound has more sparkle than soot.

Two Cow Garage’s raspy vocals struggle amid this polished sound. That vocal was a major asset in the band’s previous work. They have never been musical pioneers, but the band’s straight ahead, honest approach is compromised on Speaking in Cursive. There’s no denying the stellar production and excellent musicianship, but these are no substitute.

Gone is the rooted rock. Country-tinged pop rock is the new flavor. The rhythms are solid, driven guitars chime, and vocals scrape out lyrics that waiver between clever and poignant to trite and lazy. The band added keys, sometimes doing more harm than good.

Speaking in Cursive starts off strong with “Humble Narrator”. This song plays like a dirt road driven version of Arcade Fire. Everything works along with the lyric, “Waking up to cassette tapes and ashtrays all filled up from the night before / Smoked filled lungs and tapes full of songs and a stranger laying on the floor”. This is easily the album’s best song.

But songs like “Brass Ring” and “Wooden Teeth” are just mundane radio fodder. These tracks definitely have hooks, but offer little reason to choose them over the millions of other hook-laden songs littering the dial. And worse yet, Speaking in Cursive has some exceedingly trite lyrics, like those in “Glass City”: “This glass city’s gonna waste my life / Then she comes in saying ‘Walk with me, boy, and I’ll show you the light’ / And I lose all of my strength to fight”. Better lyrics appear in “Folksinger’s Heart”: “Older brother, oldest son / I was never any good at either one / And my father, and the truth / Destroy the thing you love, son / Before it destroys you”.

“Bastards and Bridesmaids” is one of three brighter spots in Two Cow Garage’s pop venture. These songs succeed where their other pop songs fail. “Bastards and Bridesmaids” starts with muted chords and a high hat. Then the band kicks in with force. Everything blends: a catchy hook, great lyrics, a rockin’ guitar solo. “Not Your Friends” and “Swingset Assassin” also fare well, drawing on the band’s strengths. Unfortunately, the other tracks do not.

Speaking in Cursive is a misstep. Two Cow Garage just doesn’t reconcile their sound with all these standard, conspicuous pop formulas despite the solid musicianship, great tone, and excellent production. But this is a good band, so there’s hope yet and plenty of time. Meanwhile, check their catalog for a taste.