Some 15 years after songwriter/multi-instrumentalist Davey Ray Moor left British-based decadent pop icons Cousteau, he and singer Liam McKahey reunited. Despite fruitful solo careers, they rediscovered that their collective chemistry for potent, decadent pop was far greater than what they'd achieved apart. They've added a silent "X" to the end of their name -- it's pronounced the same -- and deliver a pristine-sounding, self-titled debut full of the old magic that is moodier and more dramatic than their past work even hinted at.
Moor plays a wealth of instruments and wrote all the songs save for the taut, foreboding blues of "The Innermost Light," which was co-written by Carl Barât. CousteauX recruited a large cast of players on trumpets, double bass, strings, marimbas, etc. Moor also produced the set. The forlorn broken love ballad "Memory Is a Weapon" recalls Chris Connelly & the Bells. Moor's flügelhorn solo underscores the drama in McKahey's doomed yet yearning vocal. The chart and production on "This Might Be Love" recalls Dusty Springfield's darker '70s records, with McKahey's airier tone barely containing his passion in the cautiously optimistic narrative. On "BURMA" (an acronym for the WWII expression "Be Upstairs Ready My Angel," used by British soldiers in letters home), McKahey imbues each syllable with a ruined yearning underscored by an insistent upright bassline, trumpet, and waves of backing vocals amid sparkling guitars. "Portobello Serenade" is noir-ish, jazzy pop where Julie London meets Lodger-era Bowie. Moor's arrangements here -- and throughout -- are luxurious yet restrained enough to allow McKahey's expressive, economically utilized vocal to shine through a blues-inflected instrumental twilight. "Thin Red Lines" is more rockist, with fuzzy electric guitars, swirling piano, and shuffling drums bumping underneath McKahey's near-growling delivery. By turns, "Seasons of You" moves back toward Springfield, but this time reflects her Brand New Me era with its slippery multi-layered strings, female backing chorus, stacked horns, and twanging guitars. Closer "Fucking in Joy and Sorrow" is as sensual and tragic as anything on Sirena, with Baroque psychedelia, steamy pop, and jazz commingling in an erotically charged chart as McKahey sings: "They'll be no hallelujahs/There'll be no more shadows of you in the sheets...Now you taste like a memory...Now we can't stop it ending, but we can slow it and say, we never said no...." (They could easily score a Claire Denis film). This song is the final evidence that the album is not only haunted by love, it's hunted by it. The mature CousteauX is less giddy, but much more poignant and poetic, and even more "musical." Moor's playing, writing, arranging, and production don't just illustrate McKahey's singing, they place themselves in service to the song as it emerges in the near-iconic grain in his voice. CousteauX is not only one of the year's most promising debuts, but a timeless offering that a decade on will sound as vital and provocative as it does now.