BY JENNIFER KELLY
So Cow’s Brian Kelly is feeling is age in the way that only a late twentysomething can. His exuberant punk pop pummels and bristles, he is still surrounded by an army of friends, he is still, after all, a musician rather than an accountant. But he is feeling the onslaught of responsibility keenly, even if he would like to duck it most of the time for a few pints with the first cut’s “Barry Richardson.” Indeed, he seems to be regretting the few shards of proprietary that attached to his youth, reminiscing about how he and his pals, “cut a swath through our 20s, we left and loved in our wake,” but also “stayed in touch with our mothers, and limited our intake.”
The Long Con is the first album to incorporate Kelly’s full band, that’s bassist Jonny White and drummer Peter O’Shea, and thus the first to capture So Cow’s raucous, belly-to-the-bar live sound. He also brought in Deerhoof’s Greg Saunier to produce, and when you think of it, the two bands share a kind of pop-song-as-bag-of-sharp-knives aesthetic. Like Deerhoof, Kelly sets his tunes on edge and occasionally tips them over, but they do seem to bounce right back.
Still, though the music is resilient, the lyrics are less so. Where once Kelly proposed a grudge match “So Cow Vs. the Future” where he might possibly win, now he seems to see an endless vista of sticky bar surfaces and diminished expectations. “Guess Who’s Dead” recounts the maladventures of old pals, with a lurching riff and mordant glee; the best tidbit, it implies, will be when you hear that Kelly himself has passed away. He turns downright curmudgeonly in “Get Down Off That Thing,” a sing-song-y one-two rampage which begins, “These kids today, don’t know they’re born, won’t know they’re dead, not like my time, we knew the score, we used our heads, it got us here, it cost us dear” before descending into cheerful mayhem.
Still, though Kelly may be trying on a “get off my lawn” persona, his songs are gruffly, engagingly buoyant, charged with a youthful energy if not enthusiasm. He’s like a Billy Bragg without the politics, like a Cloud Nothings that acknowledges the ridiculousness of its own angst. He’s sharp and sarcastic and looking right down the hole into middle age, but he hasn’t given up a bit of his edge in the process.
DOWNLOAD: “Barry Richardson,” “Guess Who’s Dead”