by Matt Keim
The Cowboys are here. Please love them. In exchange for your heart, they will give you sixteen songs from their new album, The Bottom of a Rotten Flower, which show off songwriting and musicianship not often seen in the world of underground "punk" music that they spin through. This is really a misnomer, because The Cowboys are not punk, and they're not rock, and they're not country. They are the distillation of five hopeless romantics' love of music channeled through the well-oiled machine of seven years of experience as an independent band. They are Indiana's best kept secret, so get in while the getting's good.
The album runs all across the board with genre and style. You can find Brian Wilson's 60s pop, Billy Joel's storytelling, Sheer Mag's 70s riffs, and even the best song ever to have not been written by Bruce Springsteen. The magic of it, though, is that each of these outings across America's history of rock music is not just a mimicry of a style. They all sound distinctly Cowboys. This is a testament to their skilled songwriting, Keith Harman's punk-by-way-of-country voice, and probably the band's time spent slinging covers early in their career. Their goal is not to fit a genre, it's to play the best song they can.
And songs they have a-plenty. The album starts with the one-two punch of the punk-by-way-of-a-high-school-dance number, “Open Sores,” and the driving “Stillborn Genius”. This is a bit of a feint, because they immediately slow it down on the 60s pop crooner, “Take My Flower and Run,” and the piano ballad, “Doghouse Rag,” which escapes the danger of feeling trite by the sheer magic of Harman's vocal talent. This pattern of hop-skipping around tempos and genres continues throughout, and the songs blaze by with an average run time of two minutes a pop, all of which makes a strong case for this being the best front-to-back album of 2019.
The best of these songs create truly exceptional experiences out of seemingly disparate parts. The chorus of “Female Behavior Book” is absolutely electric with Beach Boys-esque melodies and a driving punk rhythm section. Album closer, “Deuce,” takes The Strokes to a field party at a friend's barn and dips it in aching teenage nostalgia. The finest track of them all, though, is the afore-mentioned Bruce Springsteen rocker, featuring, of all things, a saxophone. It's a beautiful ride through missed opportunities, mistakes, and heartache without forsaking a broken heart's hope of redemption.
Which is really what this band is about. Creating striking moments out of everyday experiences and then slipping them into your soul. Whenever the ear is not being carried away by the melodies, or the beat's not driving you to dance, the lyrics are more than enough to sink your teeth into. The most thrilling moment comes when Harman flips a common bank robber's threat of "Nobody moves/Nobody gets hurt" into a warning about not taking a chance on love. This band has the talent, the music has the heart, somebody get a PR machine behind them and make them famous.