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Cordelia's Dad - What It Is


College Music Journal

Cordelia's Dad may well be the first band suitable for both the alternative rock crowd and the congregation of a snake-handling church. Indeed, the group's rocking takes on traditional and sometimes creepy folk tunes bridge a vast culture gap, with delightful effect. The rock, however, has steadily slithered to the forefront on each of the band's four prior studio albums and on What It Is, the trio (Tim Eriksen, Peter Irvine and Cath Doss, also known as the indie-rock threesome, Io) again dials it up a notch (Praise Jesus! Pass the diamondback!). Sonically, some of the folksy aesthetic is lost, but the stark, vivid lyrical imagery remains (On "Camille's Not Afraid Of The Barn," a barn with a piss-and-cigarette stench is sung into holographic existence. The image of horror-stricken "Brother Judson" and his catatonia is depicted simply but effectively). That's not to say the rootsy sounds aren't entirely forsaken: "Dark and Rolling Eye" boasts the fiddle of erstwhile member Laura Fisk, and if you listen closely, you can hear acoustic instruments amidst the din. But why nitpick or analyze? What It Is is just plain good. - Randy Harward


All Music Guide

While just a basic trio, Cordelia's Dad compose a far greater and larger sound than imagined, moving from the early alternative rock of the nineties Seattle scene with a tablespoon of jazz and R.E.M. traces on Upswing, a moody and winding track. Inhaler recalls Canadian cult rockers The Tragically Hip, a mix of jazz ideas on a slow tension building arrangement. Lead songwriter Tim Eriksen has a downbeat vocal ability like Dave Matthews and Michael Stipe, particularly on the somber and melancholic Eyelovemusic. A number of the jazz touches have a Middle Eastern or Indian element to them, as Five Way Flashlight exemplifies this trait perfectly. But the album's greatest asset is its ability to move through different ideas, none more so than the hymnal and gorgeous Despair, resembling mountain music. The highlight track would definitely be the stellar Rock Me (To Sleep), characterized by a deliberate hard rock and beefy rhythm like Led Zeppelin or even Creed. The quality of the music though can't be defined, as the group resort to a Ralph Stanley style on the final Brethren Sing. This is a definitive album that is not easy to define. - Jason MacNeil


American Feed Magazine

This is the seventh album from Cordelia's Dad, and the first real rock album since 1996's road kill. That album was a collection of live tracks documenting what at the time was a finished era for the band, when it seemed that they would reserve the name Cordelia's Dad for acoustic music, and continue to rock out under another name. For various weird reasons that didn't end up happening, and now the band seems to have reconciled itself to its apparent stylistic schizophrenia.

This is also the first rock record featuring the longtime lineup of founding members Tim Eriksen, (middle voice/guitar/stuff) and Peter Irvine (low voice/drums/drum) in addition to Cath Oss (high voice/bass guitar/hero accordion). Which is ironic, because structurally it's most similar to the band's 1989 debut: primarily electric, with a few acoustic and unaccompanied vocal tunes.

It's almost impossible to say who Cordelia's Dad sounds like. Adjectives that spring to mind are angular, weird, fierce, tender, pure. There's raging guitars, catchy choruses, and solemn hymns. As far as specific comparisons go, the band has often cited The Ramones and the ballad collections of Anne and Frank Warner as primary influences, and certainly they remain attached to both these sources: they rock as hard as the Ramones, and Tim's singing is definitely indebted to singers like Lee Monroe Presnell and Frank Proffitt. Their songs, too, remind me of both sources: "Song of the Heads" features a Ramones-esque "sha-la-la" pre-chorus as well as a simple-yet-effective rallying cry: "What goes around comes around," and the album's genuine love song, "Leave Your Light On" is weird enough to be personal, yet abstract enough to connect it to the ballad-singing they do in their acoustic mode.

But in combining these influences, Cordelia's Dad transcend both. The album ends with "Song of the Heads" followed by "Brethren Sing," an unaccompanied three-way harmony piece dating back to 1848, about the redemptive powers of music. I can't help but be reminded of something like the very end of the Ramones' debut, "Today Your Love, Tomorrow The World" (not the Nazi stuff at the beginning, the very very end). Not in lyrical content, because on this level the words don't matter: I don't give a fig for Jesus or Heaven, but the propulsive harmonies of the hymn put me in exactly the same state of mind as the I-IV-V of The Ramones.

It's hard to single out particular tracks on the album. Each deserves an essay and at the same time needs no explanation. The opener, "Camille's Not Afraid of the Barn" is one of Tim's best songs yet, with verses like "There's a barn that smells like piss and cigarettes, something locked up tight inside, tonight we'll squeeze between the fear and the dark, and see what this town has to hide." Though the main guitar is acoustic, by the song's end we are graced with distortion and feedback. It should be a classic, something on mix tapes alongside "Rockaway Beach" and "Surrender" in the backseat of a beatup car.

"Five Way Flashlight" is another great one. "Five way flashlight/five way flashlight tag like phosphorescence in the waves/I've seen fires from the air against midnight snow/When you flew over could you see the flashlight in my hands?" What the hell's it about? Doesn't matter, it makes perfect sense. Featuring both trombone and throat singing, this breathless, hushed tune evokes a sense of frenzied wonder.

About all I can confidently say about "Little Speckled Egg" is that it's a weird song about an egg. Tight, bouncy verses; a whistling break; a crashy bridge; a thundering, thundering noisy instrumental section followed by a tried-and-true punk-rock start-and-stop this is everything rock ought to be.

"Dark and Rolling Eye" is the sole acoustic track on the album (featuring former member Laura Risk on fiddle) and it fits right in. A great, somber trad tune about paying a minister's daughter to screw, then getting VD. I've heard them play this countless times and I still get chills. (Ditto "Hammer," one of their spookiest).

One of the best things about Cordelia's Dad is their optimism. Far too much bullshit has been spouted about the link between misery and creativity, the dependence of the latter on the former, etc etc, ad frigging nauseam. Dig this: "The night will squeeze between the fear and the dark/and see what this town has to hide"; "Get that upswing/fuck that down thing drop that down talk/go for a walk get those boots on/shake that dust off"; "All I ever want or wish to know/that all is clear above and calm below": the songs on this album prove that joy and resolve can be just as inspiring as angstridden moping.

These songs have been around for awhile (the album was recorded by Steve Albini and Mark Alan Miller between June 1997 and June 1999, and the band had been playing some of them for several years prior), and it's a little strange that it's taken so long for the world to hear them. It's also more than a little sad that due to various personal circumstances, there will likely not be a major national tour behind the album. Cordelia's Dad live is a profound physical and spiritual experience.

The only real problems I have with the album are trivial fanboy type things: where's "Promise?" Or "Closing Year?" And shouldn't there be some version of "Idumea"? I guess I should take it as a good sign that there are more songs in the vault, waiting...

To sum up what Cordelia's Dad is all about, dig "Eyelovemusic," because if it's not a manifesto then it's at least a mantra: "I love music, and I love there is sadness in every song. Sweet sadness says too much cool is bad for struggling hearts. I love music, and I love hear the overtones." Too fucking right. With thundering drums, fierce guitars, and the coolest harmonies in rock, What It Is is not only the band's best rock album yet, but one of their best, period.



Originally a noise punk outfit, Cordelia's Dad is on the brink of releasing their seventh album to date. Featuring Tim Eriksen (vocals, guitar), Peter Irvine (vocals, drums) and Cath Oss (vocals, bass and accordion), with guest appearances by Mike Heffley (trombone) and Laura Risk (fiddle), What It Is melds folk and rock into a unique whole. Their pop sensibility comes through well on "Upswing," while tracks like "Despair" and "Brethren Sing," both of which are centered around chanting, display the band's willingness to experiment with different styles. Elsewhere, you can expect to find delicate vocals and moody guitar flourishes that exude a mellow sort of ambiance and mildly discordant tracks that prove Cordelia's Dad has not abandoned their roots. - Ryan Mungia


Calamity Project

cordelia's dad is not by any means a newcomer to music. this band has been around for quite some time, although i had not heard of them before, i am extremely glad to say that i do now.

cordelia's dad plays rock music that leans towards indie rock but maintains it's straight up rock approach. the band uses delicate melodies and harsh guitars and feedback to create a stunning spectrum of sound that ranges from bleak and gloomy to upbeat and more happy. in effect, by doing so, cordelia's dad has paved a new path for folk styled rock music.

if you've been a fan of anything kimchee records has put out, i definitely recommend this to you. i immensely enjoyed this album, and i am most definitely positive that anyone who's into indie rock with a folk influence will definitely love this album.


Basement Life

They’re a folk act, they’re a rock band, they sing a capella traditional hymns, and they do it all fairly well. Cordelia’s Dad is back with their seventh record, and it contains a beautiful hybrid of styles that share a common base in Americana inspired music. With a trio of vocalists, including guitarist Tim Eriksen--who’s slow drawl bears a striking resemblance to that of Michael Stipe--Cordelia’s Dad dabble in incredibly slow tunes full of atmosphere and feeling. The styles on the record shift about halfway through, with the beginning of the disc having been put together in 1997, and the latter tunes coming from a 2001 recording with Steve Albini. Things do get a bit weird by the Albini sessions, especially with the ominously gothic lyrical tendencies and the lengthy "Rock Me (To Sleep)" which sounds a bit too much like REM covering Tool. Earlier moments feature quieter arrangements with a folk core and less abrasive acoustic accompaniment. While the record certainly has some odd segues and a bevy of styles, they make for a disc that keeps the listener guessing and is full of surprises. Sure, not every one of the twists is for the better, but when the handful of real gems, including the solemn "Dark And Rolling Eyes," do kick in, Cordelia’s Dad make up for any past indiscretions. REM fans may find this to be especially appealing, but the broad range of styles and subjects can be enjoyed by anyone who enjoys laid-back intelligent rock with solid folk roots. (Peter D'Angelo)


High Bias

Boston's Cordelia's Dad started out a decade ago as an electric folk power trio, playing traditional American folk tunes in a punked-up rock & roll style. After a couple of albums in that vein, leaderTim Eriksen decided to make Dad an all-acoustic affair, while continuing the electric explorations with original songs in a band called Io. Dad has since become a well-respected institution in the folk underground, while Io seemed to just fade away. Only in nomenclature, apparently, since Eriksen revives the songs and sound under the Cordelia's Dad banner for What It Is. Though the general sound recalls the band's earliest days, to say this is a return to former glories is a mistake. Eriksen isn't the same musician now he was then, and his tunes are a slightly odd combination of the early American folk music he's been trafficking in for years and guitar-based indie rock. Power chords and unconventional melodies carry his impressionistic poetry, and his thick-toned guitar and droning vocals (the main influence on which seems to be bagpipes) lead the way. Bassist/singer Cath Oss and drummer Peter Irvine offer dynamic support. Seriously rocking tracks like "Brother Judson," "Song of the Heads" and "Little Speckled Egg" are balanced by ballads like "Leave Your Light On," "Hammer" and "Eyelovemusic." There are a couple of folk songs present in "Dark and Rolling Eye," "Despair" and "Brethren Sing," the latter two of which come from the a cappella shape-note tradition. The band sounds equally comfortable with both approaches, setting the stage for future blendings of both sides of its personality. With What It Is, Cordelia's Dad makes a genuine breakthrough. (Michael Toland)

For fans of: The Tragically Hip, Throwing Muses, Buffalo Tom



With the resurgence of folk music in America, it would seem that a record like this would be the type that would light up college radio charts everywhere. There truly is something for just about every taste to be found here and the album maintains a sense of cohesiveness that is entirely unexpected from something that throws so many ingredients into the pot. The first half of What It Is is an exploration of a bunch of different folk influences. It's so far reaching that the trombone bleats in "Inhaler" aren't really out of place at all. Heck, next to the Tuvan throat singing in "Five Way Flashlight" they seem perfectly normal. Meanwhile, "Dark and Rolling Eye" seems like a Fairport Convention track that was picked up off the cutting room floor. "Brother Judson" on the other hand wouldn't be far afield on any Touch and Go LP. What's truly astounding is that this all holds together despite the fact that it was recorded over such a period of time. The earliest ttracks were done in Chicago at Steve Albini's, and these are the ones that hold a more feral edge to them. Apparently, they brought him east a bit later in 1997 to record a little more. These songs didn't amount to a whole record and languished unreleased. In 1999, the trio of Tim Eriksen, Peter Irvine, and Cath Oss tried again and got another 7 tracks down at Slaughterhouse. These later recordings have a folkier edge, with more acoustic instrumentation. But again the songs were left unreleased. It wasn't until last summer that the band returned to Slaughterhouse and mixed it all and out came this 14 song release. This is music that you'd love to watch in a live setting, but the band isn't doing that much (if at all) anymore which is too bad. Luckily, they've left behind a document to prove to everyone just how good it can be. (Wally Cassotto)


Action Attack Helicopter

Cordelia’s Dad just can’t seem to make up their mind. About half of this album is Puller-esque rock-n-emo, and the other half is folk-inflected ballads and even an a capella number. Perhaps this dichotomy is due to the fact that What It Is was recorded at two different times, partly in 1997 with Steve Albini and partly in 2001 with Dinosaur Jr. producer Mark Allan Miller. To their credit, the album’s not half bad. Ha ha, get it? Anyways, vocalist/Guitarist Tim Eriksen has that Michael Stipe/Gene Eugene vibe to his voice, which suits the sometimes gruesome, always melancholy tales just fine. The addition of female harmony vocals, horns, violin, and either a didgeridoo or throat-singing -- it’s hard to tell -- add a haunting edge to many of the more Americana-sounding songs. I like what Cordelia’s Dad is trying to do, but I think that the album suffers from its multiple personality disorder. Personally, my tastes lie more towards the haunting, macabre Sixteen Horsepower/Slim Cessna’s Auto Club scene, so I wanted to hear more of the "traditional" side of the band. Maybe next time around, they’ll focus on that aspect more. - Michael A Cavagnaro



Ahhh, a refreshing breath of air has been sent by producer Steve Albini to fill a musical void. This "folk-rock" band transcends categorization by experimenting with a collage of eclectic instruments and vocal stylings. "What It Is" features vocals reminiscent of Neutral Milk Hotel in tone, and of mountain top choirs in harmonies. Its rambling, ode-like lyrics are pleasurable enough to stretch a smile across your face while the snap-dragon drumming grabs onto your ears until the last track has faded. "Little Speckled Egg", "Five Way Flashlight" and "Hammer" spin stories around random concepts that wouldn't be too out of place on a Pixies reunion album recorded live in the Ozark mountains. I highly recommend this album for it is truly a well-crafted product of a hard working group of North Easterns. At the very least, put that Warped Tour comp back in the bin in favor of a band that defies conformity. -Jaime Gadette


A surprising turn-around from Cordelia's Dad, this, who have dragged their bedroom folk to hell and back, and return with what is, essentially, a vital rock album, all lo-fi cowpunk and a straightforward, if fresh-sounding rock approach to the material. Proof, if nothing else, that contemporary folk music has more in common with punk rock than either of them might readily admit to.

Here, Cordelia's Dad come across like a prime-time Husker Du performing in a slightly more pastoral register, and a song like the beautiful, dreamy "Inhaler" combines the weird with the sweet into a mesmerizing sort of freak-out post-folk rock. Absolutely brilliant. Elsewhere, there is the head-on attack of "Camille's Not Afraid of the Barn," thatís nothing but heartbreakingly good, and there's the exhilarating "Brother Judson," sounding as if Sonic Youth suddenly dropped their pretensions to record some down-home all-out rock (in a weird time-signature, of course). A bit like Pernice Brothers, perhaps, but looser, with more of a band-quality to it, as if the playing itself, the discovery of new worlds as you go along, is at least as important as the rendering of finished melodies and words.

Cordelia's Dad have made a disturbing but hugely impressive album that sees them adding a whole new approach to their already far-reaching musical horizon. It's a bold move, but one they emerge from in stylish manner.

Stein Haukland



I didn't know what to expect from What It Is; a release comprised of songs recorded in 1997 and 1999, What It Is can hardly be called a new record. The 1997 tracks were recorded by Steve Albini, perhaps when he recorded the group's acoustic album Spine, while the later tracks originate from sessions with Mark Alan Miller. Ironically, there's an angularity and tethered aggression here that subversively melds mainstream assumptions with the sound typically associated with Mr. Albini and his Chicago brethren.

Since the 1998 release of Spine, the band has laid low, each of the three members concentrating on their own work, including Tim Erikson's duties as Visiting Professor of American Music at Dartmouth College. All three members are musicologists of a sort, and from the band's conception they have played rock arrangements of traditional American folk songs -- territory mapped by the Fairport Convention in Britain. But What It Is consists largely of original material, and after a slow start it builds to an unmissable crescendo. Cordelia's Dad's strength has always been that they play traditional music in a modern style rather than submitting their drive to musical impulses of generations past. The band's musicology has borne fruit on What It Is, in which Eriksen's songwriting is a perfect blend of traditional and modern impulses.

The disc opens with "Camille's Not Afraid of the Barn." Relatively innocuous, it's a college-friendly jangler set apart by Tim Eriksen's voice, which is tinged with a lightly plaintive rasp that blends well with Cath Oss's harmonies. Lyrics hold a line between accessible and odd, but I love "the grapes are darker than your eyes this year." It's a slow start that only hints at the power of songs to come. Fortunately, the songs at the head of the disc are the weakest, and the record builds to a wrenching climax with "Rock Me (To Sleep)" "Brother Judson".

"Inhaler" is where the promise begins to flower, a strummed spread of low chords with a trombonist hiding under the front porch. "Five Way Flashlight" and "Little Speckled Egg" continue the disc's slow ramp up to ferocity, "Flashlight" featuring more of the low-mixed brass as well as an occasional vocal approximation of a didgeridoo. (It works.) The first of three traditional tracks, "Despair" is an a capella dirge that's more powerful than every song preceding it. Eriksen and Oss's voices twine and merge perfectly. A stroke of tracking genius follows "Despair" with "Hammer", an Oss-sung photo of loneliness that places her on a plain, blustered by a wind-borne guitar. "Rock Me(To Sleep)" is a pounding, slow-building rocker that complements the prior two tunes, forming a miniature suite at the record's core. A deep tension hides in the scratched stings that texture the background of "Rock Me(To Sleep)", prophesying the explosive rock of "Brother Judson".

Lyrically, What It Is plays out like a musical collage of centuries-old American town history, distorted and revised through retelling. The stung, earnest force of Eriksen's voice compounds that sense of listening to old family tales.

Cordelia's Dad sound far more dense than a three-piece would suggest, at times making me think I was listening to an ensemble like Thinking Fellers Local 282, which the group's vocal harmonies and occasionally jerky rhythms suggest. But Cordelia's Dad are not experimenting -- they're fully confident in the direction of their songwriting, creating a highly memorable record. -- Russ Fischer


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