Cousteau: Sirena (Palm)

The group refers to their sound as “aromatic with intrepid romance.”

Remember how, back in the ’70s, one great album after another appeared, and the songs, the performances, and the production were always classy and tasteful? OK, neither do I; it wasn’t actually like that. But England’s Cousteau has a sound that harks back to a time that you can’t help but think existed; it inspires nostalgia and yearning for something you may or may not have actually lived through. The strong melodies, the immaculate, piano-based arrangements and Liam McKahey’s deep, Bowie-like vocals seem to be from another time, another place, and they certainly create a mood more compelling than the one you’re probably in right now.

“Peculiarly You” and the sweetly affecting, jazz-flavored “Salome” are soothing, liquid tunes that make you wanna light the scented candles and pull out that amber-colored bottle of wine. There’s a bit of early Leonard Cohen in some of these tunes; other stylistic touchstones might include Nick Cave and fellow Brits Tindersticks. The group members themselves are avowed fans of legendary brooding songwriter Scott Walker, but this stuff is more palatable. “Please Don’t Cry” is one of a few tunes that the higher-voiced Davey Ray Moor sings, which he does with great warmth and emotional resonance. McKahey and Moor have nicely contrasting styles; Moor’s elegant piano chords and just a few snatches of evocative guitar elevate the song to near-perfection.

The melancholy lilt of “After the Fall,” which is one of many songs to feature flawlessly smooth percussion by Craig Vear (along with the already intoxicating keyboards and guitar), the soft strings and ear-pleasing combination of tenor and falsetto vocals on “She Bruise Easy,” and the elegant balladry of “Have You Seen Her” are all signs of a group with something far more appealing to say musically than simply, “we’re good musicians and we hope you dig our latest product.” The attentive listener should discover some real magic in these grooves.

The group jokingly refers to their sound as “aromatic with intrepid romance.” While Cousteau might be too down tempo for some (and in truth, this record doesn’t vary much from its smoky, late-night, lovelorn vibe), they are musicians of unerring taste, amazingly adept at conjuring and then sustaining an evocative mood. “Most people hearing these songs, if they have any kind of interior emotional life, will feel they were made for them,” said vocalist McKahey. “These are songs that possess, but can’t contain the yearning.” While this provides some insight, you really have to feel this music for yourself to get the impact. Sirena isn’t a merely pretty record, nor is it obviously commercial. But Cousteau has graced us with a rich, sophisticated collection of songs, a work of elegant, subtle pleasures that may inspire you to remember when…as you’re reveling in this moment right now.

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