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The North Country - "In Defense of Cosmic Altruism" | Album Review


by Connor McInerney (@b_ck_tt)

The most enjoyable thing about primarily lyrical albums is that they are often indicative of both the persona of a songwriter as well as their relation to their environment. Even the most introspective of works are wont to reveal some insight of an artist’s perspective of the world around them, be it a positive or negative takeaway, that is either affirming or challenging to the listener.

In Defense of Cosmic Altruism is not one of those albums in its strictest sense, a compliment to The North Country. For throughout Andrew Grossman’s forty minute, genre-meshing serenade, he as protagonist strides a line between cautious optimism and upbeat nihilism that feels thematically uneasy. It’s an album that doesn’t seem to make any outright claims (be they positive or negative) about Grossman’s personal philosophy, but consistently recognizes both the “evil or good,” the idealism of the self and how that squares with a difficult and indifferent world. This evenhandedness is stated outright on album opener, “My Understanding,” which laments upon what Grossman’s “understanding of the world as it is” as what it rather could be, a hopeful mantra countered by the painful admission that he “wasn’t made for these times.”

Hope curtailed by human capacity is a recurring theme of Cosmic, expounded in second track and album standout “Ardor in D,” another thesis of the human condition that proposes we as individuals are “the ardor of our innocence turning to the martyrdom of age.” It’s another uncomfortable truth, that our best youthful intentions are too often curtailed by wizened cynicism, transmitted through a driving, energetic, and psychedelic romp, one that helps ground and humanize the release’s metaphysical elements from getting caught up in any sort of acid-laden trope.

“Ardor” highlights some of the better instrumental themes throughout Cosmic in this regard, specifically that Grossman and his collaborators are able to blend synthetic textures and echoed guitars with a truly solid rhythmic backbone. This is done in a way that prevents the entire album from becoming too ethereal, while maintaining the necessary mystic and otherworldly sound that compliments Grossman’s more philosophical lyrical bouts. Tracks like “Island” and “E-Meditation (Forever, Forever)” add to the creation of this cohesion throughout Cosmic, one in which form fits function almost perfectly.

This cohesion is interrupted only slightly by the classic, albeit slightly out of place, traditional instrumental arrangements on songs like “O Elizabeth” and “Respectably, Desperately.” Both songs transmit the album’s larger, more metaphysical uncertainty of life to a personal level, echoing themes present throughout the album but applied in a more intimate sense - “Elizabeth” hones in upon letting go of your own self delusions and accepting the love you are given, whereas “Respectably” echoes the necessity of accepting “all of the mess” as compromise in romantic relationships.  Grossman’s ability to transmit an overall sense of peaceful compromise to a far more microscopic level is impressive, but one can’t help but feel the traditional arrangements of these tracks detracts from the album’s cohesive aesthetic.

Cosmic’s closing track “Last Curtain Call” ends the album on a question, a fitting end to an LP that at its core seeks to explore, while never answer, a number of inquiries (“What have I done with my life?” “What’s on the other side of death?”). Grossman doesn’t seek to outline any specific dogma, but rather through these Cosmic questions he has created an album that is a deeply challenging, personal meditation of what it means to be human in an increasingly uncertain time.