Album Review: Katie Ellen – Cowgirl Blues

By on Monday, 10th July 2017 at 12:00 pm
 

Katie Ellen Cowgirl Blues album coverFollowing the breakup of their pop punk band Chumped last year, frontwoman Anika Pyle and drummer Dan Frelly branched out into fuzz pop to start a new act. The name Katie Ellen was inspired by Pyle’s own grandmother’s stage name, a radio maverick in the 1950s called Kaytee Ellen whose on-air identity was unfortunately considered her employer’s property.

Staunch feminist Pyle explains giving the project a pseudonym “lent me a bit of creative anonymity to try new things and explore my own identity, especially as it pertains to autonomy, femininity and vulnerability.” They’re so anonymous, the press photos I was given for this review aren’t of the band themselves (I don’t think) but anonymous women whose faces are obscured by flowers. While you could argue their sound has a punk soul, there’s also an innocent country twang in Pyle’s voice that refuses to be ignored.

With its sweeping lyrics and gentle guitar notes, ‘Han’ sounds pretty quintessential country. However, the lyrics “there’s a thousand different ways to say you’re sorry in Korean” don’t sound like it might have been sung by a man in a 10-gallon hat, do they? Nods to an old fashioned way of life and thinking are peppered throughout the LP. “Take me to the drawing room, where I’ll withdraw from everything but you”, shouts Pyle in repetition in the satisfyingly rocky conclusion of ‘Drawing Room’, the room in stately homes women would withdraw to separate themselves from the men after social events. Later on in the tracklisting, foot-stomping standout ‘Houses Into Homes’ recalls the days when a woman had to go on blind faith that the man she chose to marry would be her forever. The song de-evolves from a woman’s naïve thoughts of “meet me in the courtyard, darling / tell me I’m the one / you and me forever, baby / nothing could go wrong” to the acceptance that the man has left her for another woman. As terrible as the story ends, it‘s a fantastic, yet all too brief torrent of female angst.

On poppy lead single ‘Lucy Stone’, Pyle shoots down having children “because they make me less a woman” and considers “getting married is a socio-economic reason”. She wants to be loved but past doomed relationship have left her pragmatic: “nothing lasts forever, it’s stupid to think so / so love me until one of us wants to be left alone”. Though the Katie Ellen song is already a pop rock tour de force, it concludes with a brash, guitar-heavy, freewheeling climax. Contrast this treatment to that of ‘Proposal’, with a guitar the only accompaniment to Pyle’s strident vocals. On it, she questions whether matrimony is a good idea at all, and given the acoustic treatment, repeating the F word is surprising.

The impression from ‘Cowgirl Blues’ is not that Pyle is anti-man, but rather she’s anti-establishment, anti everything that serves to put women in a box without any choices of their own but to conform. She wails, “I could have been happy” on the title track, and the vocal register chosen is almost painful to hear. Pyle confronts the outdated institution of marriage handily, yet she’s strong enough to admit her own vulnerability too. She notes to a suitor that she could never live up to his “parents’ golden expectations” on ‘Sad Girls Club’, also acknowledging, “sad girls don’t make good wives.” Bright bursts of percussion and gently jangling guitars punctuate the slower tempoed ‘TV Dreams’, in which Pyle admits she misses a former lover and according to her own Sad Girls Club manifesto, that’s totally okay.

And that’s how it should be. Freedom and commitment shouldn’t be mutually exclusive, and neither should a woman and her emotions because society has made her feel weak by daring to show them. “I am keeping my own rules”, asserts Pyle on ‘Lucy Stone’. What is a woman’s truth, she should be allowed to live it. While ‘Cowgirl Blues’ isn’t terribly inventive musically, its empathetic message to women and men makes it a must listen.

7/10

‘Cowgirl Blues’, the debut album from new American band Katie Ellen, will be out on this Friday, the 14th of July, on Lauren Records.

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