The cover of Cool American’s Better Luck Next Year is a grainy post-party photo: empty mixers and liquor bottles strewn amongst fallen tinsel. This visual and the album’s title evoke the universal feeling of cleaning up the remnants of a disappointing evening.
Maybe next weekend will be different.
Nathan Tucker, the singer/songwriter behind Cool American, specializes in communicating this end-of-the-night ennui. He has the insight of a pop troubadour; his songs reveal astute observations about himself and his peers (“And every couple months/she’s seeing someone new/seems to keep her/from something deeper”) with a transparency that makes his lyrics—which at first may seem world-weary—hopeful and comforting. Tucker’s throaty voice narrates familiar feelings, making it extremely difficult to avoid empathy or self-reflection as he sings about topics ranging from getting the news about a hospital-bound friend to seeing a band play an all ages spot that will be closed in a year.
In Cool American’s forthcoming release, Tucker seems to be at the end of his rope emotionally (“Smoke a lonely cigarette/same stupid fucking music/is playing in the background”)—but that may be because all of his energy is going towards the music. Moving away from a lone guitar and towards an electric configuration gives Cool American the chance to find strength in their emotive vulnerability. By the third song on the record I had underlined my note “Sun Kil Moon with an Adderall prescription” four times (which is a big, big compliment).
The marriage of indie and pop in which Cool American is nestled is the result of Tucker’s affinity for past stars like Elliott Smith and the current Portland music scene. “I think of the music my friends and peers (both in Portland and elsewhere) are making as just as influential to me as whatever ’90s or ’80s band people are likely to think our album sounds like,” says Tucker.
Cool American taps into age-old indie rock anguish with extremely catchy garage-rock melodies and a focus that makes their angst seems mature and polished—a refreshing take on a genre that occasionally soaks too long in its own sadness. The album rarely voices complaints, but instead thoughtfully identifies the melancholy in the mundane, exemplified by “Wanna Be a Dick”—a plaint composed of muted voicemails, pretty finger-picking and gentle harmonizing.
“For recording we basically wanted the record to sound like just the band playing in the room,” says Tucker. Tucker and his band have accomplished this mission perfectly, and the simple recording makes the album personal and easy to connect to. Cool American’s new full-band material highlights a marked evolution over Better Luck Next Year— but the group haven’t lost their ability to make songs about everyday happenings romantic and compelling.