Record Review: Cookie Duster – When Flying Was Easy (2012)
When the musical collective Broken Social Scene went on hiatus in 2011, thousands of its fans did not fret or post disparaging comments on the collective’s website, or worse, drum up a tragedy as horrible as the death of Pantera/Damageplan founding member Dimebag Darrell; they did not rush to the record store to buy up the collective’s discography, for fear there might never be another pressing until a greatest-hits compilation was seized upon by Warp Records. It was obvious that the nineteen-piece musical entity could never go in every direction every one of its members wanted, or could, but that its magic had to rest for a bit, so the collective could figure who and where they were now, as their own persons. The collective had been at it for ten great, long years.
When the musical collective Broken Social Scene went on hiatus, most fans had one question and one question only that burned and burned in the backs of their minds: when/where can we listen to more material by its two constants, Brendan Canning and Kevin Drew? Broken Social Scene’s last album, Forgiveness Rock Record, came out the year of their self-imposed hiatus, so new Canning or Drew material, it was thought, was down the road in some distant, not-too-soon future. Prior to Broken Social Scene’s hiatus, both Canning and Drew had released solo efforts under the Broken Social Scene Presents persuasion (Something for All of Us… and Spirit If.., respectively), as if to prepare their fans for a day without Broken Social Scene in existence. Now, Canning has resurfaced, resurrecting an old project whose name is old-time slang for “mustache:” Cookie Duster. We can be certain there will be no indie-rock drug-use memoirs, at least not from Canning, not now, who is himself keeping up a busy work ethic, having released a full-length album already this year, When Flying Was Easy, on SQE Music.
When Flying Was Easy is Cookie Duster’s first effort in over a decade, their first being nearly impossible to track down/unlisted on any of the listener’s more frequented music sites (without paying steep import pricing on Amazon.com). Cookie Duster’s production value seems on par with that of other Canning projects; this is not an ambient album or new musical direction for Canning by any means, though many tracks see him employing dustier, choked vocals (on those tracks where he does, in fact, sing; many lead vocal duties are carried out by fellow band member Jeen O’Brien). If anything, Cookie Duster is a musical rebranding of sorts for Canning, a character study, if you will, with other, newish-old figures in the fold. The track, “Two Feet Stand Up,” has been released as a single, with an accompanying music video:
“Two Feet Stand Up” undoubtedly showcases a lot of Broken Social Scene influence, has an almost arena rock-feel to it. Other tracks which shine, but shine brighter, are “Daddy’s Got the Medicine” and “Something Evil Again,” where Canning is on lead vocals and the synthesizer-keyboard aspects to Cookie Duster are on full display. This is the new Canning. Meet Cookie Duster. Duets between O’Brien and Canning prove to be the core of this effort, these songs being, “Cut Me, Focus,” “Black Car Waiting,” “No Solo,” and “Living on a Fine Line.” The listener is treated to a layering of Canning and O’Brien, perhaps a range of effects, and they are reminded of what made Broken Social Scene so “broken,” so unlike anything else out there in music, collaboration, many sounds distilled into one, the fact that no one else was trying what Broken Social Scene was doing, or, if they were, having nowhere near as much success. Other tracks kind of fall and fade into the mold that makes When Flying Was Easy, well, an easy college-rock album. Throughout, Jeen O’Brien is a refreshing new voice, and provides a range of talent and sound which gives Cookie Duster that extra push, just enough to crawl out from under Broken Social Scene’s looming shadow. After it is over, the listener knows this band is something different, a new force to be reckoned with.
Over and over, bands form, bands get famous, bands disband, those bands reform or other bands form out of their ashes that aren’t quite as good, and then one of those bands might go on to actually release a so-so album, or maybe they even exceed expectations and release another, or carve a place for themselves in the wide spectrum that is music industry. The listener can at least rest easy knowing Cookie Duster is an excellent in-between, and expect interesting things from Canning in this project’s latest incarnation. Results from When Flying Was Easy were as anticipated, but leave the listener with yet another set of burning questions: where the hell is Drew? How will he answer? What will he do with his time off?
Cookie Duster – When Flying Was Easy. Released by SQE Music on June 12, 2012.
Jason Teal is a founding editor of HEAVY FEATHER REVIEW. His work has appeared in METAZEN, RED LIGHTBULBS, NAP, and SUSQUEHANNA REVIEW. His reviews have been published in MID-AMERICAN REVIEW, where he served as managing editor.