Persona Non Grata


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Persona Non Grata Review

by Mark Deming

Another in the army of bands playing drony, doomstruck pop full of echo and ennui, California's Cosmonauts have clearly embraced the influence of the Velvet Underground on a deeper level than their peers. Not only do they quote the lyrics from "Heroin" during "Sweet Talk," "My Alba" is a dead ringer for "Venus in Furs" if you stripped off the viola, and Fletcher Shears' drumming is just as metronomic as Moe Tucker's (if less lively). And like the Velvets, Cosmonauts are willing to bear down on a simple jam and let the changes sink in as long as necessary for them to work, especially on longer numbers like "Sweet Talk" and "I'm So Bored With You," where guitarists Derek Cowart and Alexander Ahmadi let their simple patterns circle one another until they take on the hypnotic aspects of a garage-psych raga. There's something curiously artful in the simplicity of the Cosmonauts' melodies, drawing power from reinforcing simple frameworks, but while their approach works most of the time, after a while this gambit begins to wear out its welcome, and the music wanders off into No Man's Land before finally making its way back to the main road for the closer. It doesn't help that the lyrics range from pretty good to a bit embarrassing, and lead singer Cowart doesn't have an especially striking vocal presence, even when his vocals are mixed high enough to be intelligible. Enough of Persona Non Grata hits the target that fans of the current garage-psych scene will want to check it out (especially when the band rocks a bit on tunes like "What Me Worry?"), but these guys need to toss in a few more tempo changes and up their game as lyricists before they meander back into the recording studio. (Note for consumers: The track listing on the back cover of Persona Non Grata isn't the same as the actual running order of the songs on the disc when you check the tunes against the lyric sheet; it's anyone's guess if this is a mistake or a prank the band is pulling on their fans.)

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