I got to see Cotton Mather during SXSW, showcasing the re-release of their celebrated Kontiki CD. But in the midst of all the SX mayhem, I didn't feel I got the chance to truly enjoy their sets. So, I was thrilled when I heard they were playing another gig at Antone's. My review of the Kontiki re-release never made it into Texas Music, so I am publishing it here. It gives you a sense of the history and meaning of the record. The show was great. They sounded like no time had passed. I'll be interested to know what's next for them.
Once upon a time, there was a band called Cotton Mather. In 1997, they released an album called Kontiki that was loved the world over, showering the band with success and international adoration. But like many Austin stories, only some of that turned out to be true. Led by Robert Harrison (Future Clouds and Radar), Cotton Mather's second outing barely made a mark in the U.S. market, but the disc somehow caught the attention of Oasis's Noel Gallagher and the U.K. media. Suddenly, Cotton Mather seemed destined for international pop stardom. But, things happen, and the band was over before it really began. Personal problems and personnel changes derailed the push for Kontiki, and the record ultimately fell out of print. Sadly, Cotton Mather was relegated to a footnote on the Austin music scene - the band that almost made it. But not before it had garnered a small, but avid, cult following - including songstress Nicole Atkins and Spoon's Britt Daniel - who longed for more of their Beatlesque, guitar-driven, hook-laden pop songs.
Fast forward to 2012, and Harrison has regrouped, with the help of a successful Kickstarter campaign, for the long anticipated re-release of Kontiki, along with a second disc of rare demos and acoustic performances. While it's hard not to make the Beatles comparison, from the catchy lyrics to experimental instrumentation, there's also the remnants of '80s and '90s indie favorites XTC, Matthew Sweet, Squeeze and Big Star juxtaposed against the originality of Harrison's vocals and powerful guitar melodies. The catchier tracks include "My Before and After," She's Only Cool" and "Vegetable Row," but there's also the dreamy "Spin My Wheels" and the '60s psychedelic and cleverly titled "Aurora Bori Alice."
To the delight of longtime fans, a slate of SXSW gigs reuniting former members of Cotton Mather accompanied the release. One spin of Kontiki, and you'll understand why it's been lauded as perhaps one of the best records to come out of Austin. It has weathered well over the years and deserves this triumphant return.
She's Only Cool
Spin My Wheels
Austin bands What Made Milwaukee Famous and the Sour Notes opened.
What Made Milwaukee Famous
The Sour Notes