THE COCKER SPANIELS RETURN TO CELEBRATE THE WEIRDNESS OF LIFE ON THEIR DIY OPUS
By Nathan Leigh
August 30, 2021
“I wish I didn’t feel like a
Computer with too many programs running
And a hard drive that’s about to crash”
Before delving into an album that engages with some of the biggest issues of the past few years, Sean Padilla, the main creative force behind The Cocker Spaniels, takes a breath. “Rice and Prepared Xylophone” is a quiet moment of domestic peace that finds Padilla making noise with his young son. Immediately we’re plunged The Cocker Spaniels’ trademark blend of punk intensity, indie jangle, funk grooves, and jazz tonality. Each song takes massive systemic issues and brings them down to street level. Burnout on “I Wish I Had the Time to Think,” the failures of the internet era on “Culture War” and “Get That Woman Off of Your Mind.”
Few songwriters can successfully contextualize large issues with the humor and humanity of Padilla. There are shadows of the warped sensibilities of Frank Zappa and George Clinton throughout his songs, a similar singular vibe: literally no-one else could have made this album. Each left-turn and detour feels intensely personal, showcasing the earnestness that continues to be the allure of the “I’m just gonna record a bunch of songs on this 4 track and see what comes out” approach that continues to underpin the soul of indie rock.
On tracks like “Racism Priest,” “Snuff Film,” and standout “Cops Don’t Care About the Drip,” Padilla’s attitude comes off like an exasperated cry against systemic injustice. He tells us the latter was “inspired by a march that took place last year in Omaha, NE, against racial injustice. It was led by a group of Black men that made a point of dressing up in suits, in an attempt to ‘change the narrative.’ It struck me as an appeal to respectability politics, which I abhor. I have no interest in making myself more palatable or less threatening to racists. Racism is illogical by nature: anyone who wants to hate me because I’m Black will do so regardless of any other situational variables that may exist.” You can almost hear the eye rolls as the backing vocals in “Snuff Film” chime in.
Elsewhere, the songs interrogate the issues of the scene, religion, family drama while also celebrating those magic moments that make the scene worth continuing, the community, and the unconditional love that make the tensest family drama worth resolving. That these cohabitate with a poem praising the aesthetic virtues of the letter “H” and a song about the eternal feud between an older cat and a younger cat (album highlight “Eternal Grudge”), is what makes this record remarkable. Padilla lenses down from the system to train his eye on the tiny details before lensing back out at the bigger picture, depicting the quirks and weirdness in every relationship as what makes it special. The bond shared between two people who loved the same band no-one else has even heard of is the basis for the album’s most intimate and hearbreaking moment on “Pen Pal on Cloud Ten.”
As the record closes out with a reminder that “All of our heroes are dying / But I’m still alive, and so are you” the profundity of The Cocker Spaniels shines through: this a record that emphatically puts it’s runtime behind the thesis that the things that make each of us unique is the reason humanity as whole is worth saving. By showing the depth of the weirdness in his soul, Padilla sees the weird in you, and finds it beautiful.
Follow Sean Padilla for more Cocker Spanielness on Instagram @houseofackrite
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