, July 12th, 2012 12:34
While Mostly No was birthed in singer-songwriter Martin Cohen's Manchester apartment, the inspiration for the record lies thousands of miles west. Milk Maid's consistently-good second album has been crafted from Cohen's love of a glittering list of American guitar groups, be it the driving chime of The War On Drugs or the bittersweet melodies of Big Star.
Mostly No follows hot on the heels of last summer's Yucca, a debut which showcased Cohen's ear for a fuzz-drenched melody. The new songs are more fleshed-out and have benefited from Cohen desire to develop Milk Maid's full band sound. However, the chronology of the songwriting is a tad complex. At least five tracks from Mostly No were written before those featured on Yucca and others were cobbled together from snatches of mothballed verses and half-worked choruses. So, while it is tempting to decipher a sonic evolution between the two albums, they merely represent a continuum of writing over a year-long period.
While now a four-piece, Cohen also struggled to acquire a stable band line-up – going through numerous personnel changes (including eight different drummers) during the album's protracted recording process. So, it is perhaps a triumph of a singular vision that Mostly No sounds so coherent and balanced from the off. The opening 'Dopamine', with its crunching guitar riff, sounds like classic snarly Mary Chain, while one of Cohen's oldest songs, 'Do Right', is blistering slice of feral surf-rock.
Recorded onto a 16-track tape machine (largely in Cohen's bedroom), in order to allow him to "use his ears" and prevent "meddling on Pro Tools," the technique provides a warm analog sheen to almost every aspect of Mostly No. Cohen was aiming for the sound to be "blown out and twisted" and he's delivered – the standout 'Bad Luck' is a quivering pop lamb, cloaked in wolf-like power chords and fed a diet of distortion.
As Mostly No begins to unfurl, the touchpoints for Cohen's inspiration become apparent. The former Nine Black Alps' bassist free admits to using Sparklehorse's 'St. Mary' as a guide for the lovely 'Stir So Slow', a song which benefits hugely from not allowing a brooding hook to be swallowed by an oft-used wall-of-noise finale. Cohen understands that less can be more. Even better is 'Your Neck Around Mine', a track that pivots around a luminous guitar riff, chipped from the Adam Granduciel-Kurt Vile rock face of grizzly country rock.
Lyrically, Milk Maid continue to explore a range of dark twenty-something subjects; 'Dopamine', in particular, hints at all manner of self-loathing ("Down a line I drew, I will go"). While Cohen claims his lyrics contain "lines of truth and the rest is just nonsense," the ramshackle pop of the glorious lead single 'Summertime' does seem, on the face of it, to be about waiting for a nice day before contemplating suicide. The song was inspired by an article Cohen read by journalist Everett True who, on visiting Seattle in the days after Kurt Cobain's death, had wondered if the city's constant rain had been in anyway a small factor in the grunge icon's demise. He should try living in Manchester.
Mostly No contains the odd wobble; 'Pictures Of Stone' nails an archetypal Alex Chilton verse structure but fails to deliver a killer chorus, while 'Old Trick' gets bogged down in its own complexity. Conversely, the gentle closer 'No Goodbye' is just plain lovely.
Harsher critics may take issue with aspects of Mostly No. Cohen could (unfairly) be accused of merely living out a fantastic record collection and there is little on this fine album that could be filed under 'truly original'. For sure, Cohen has great taste and for a man who claims to have purchased "18 Queen albums as a child before buying anything by anyone else," his horizons have broadened considerably with age. And if Mostly No lacks genuine innovation, the album more than compensates with a radiating glow of veneration.