Ian Cooke Double Feature: The Fall I Fell (2007) & Fortitude (2011)

Bio (from www.iancookemusic.com):
Singer, songwriter, cellist, pianist – Ian Cooke has appeared in SPIN magazine, Finished #1 in the Denver Post Music Poll in 2009, and has been voted Best Avant-Pop for 3 years by Westword Magazine. He also plays cello on Crooked Fingers’ album Forfeit/Fortune and his two songs appeared alongside Billy Bragg, Owen Pallett, and M Ward on ‘Versions of Joanna’ – a Joanna Newsom covers-album. He has toured in the US and Australia playing with: The Dresden Dolls, Crooked Fingers, Built to Spill, The Decemberists, The Flaming Lips (Monolith Festival), Blonde Redhead, Devotchka, Rasputina, Wovenhand, Pedro the Lion and many more.
Cooke’s 2009 album, ‘The Fall I Fell,’ has sold out of two pressings and has been re-pressed with a DVD with solo live versions of songs, videos, a 5.1 surround mix of the album, etc. His new album ‘Fortitude’ was released 11/11/11 and Cooke will be touring this winter and all of next year, booked by the Vinefield Agency.

Musicians:
THE FALL I FELL: Ian Cooke (songwriting, vocals, cello, piano, percussion, package design), Ian O (drum programming on tracks 10 & 11, guitar on tracks 3 & 7), Justin Ferreira (drums on tracks 4,6,7, & 8), Sean Merrell (drums on tracks 1 & 12), Jme (everything but vocals & strings on track 4), Kelly O’Dea (violin on track 4), Whit Sibley (bass, muse)
FORTITUDE: Ian Cooke (songwriting, voice, cello, piano, art design and painting), Sean Merrell (drums), Ian O’Dougherty (guitar, drum programming), Whit Sibley (bass, voice on Kingdom) with: Shawn King (trumpet on Cassowary & Fruit Bat and The Towering Prince), Julie Davis (voice of Cassowary, voice on Bones), Joseph Pope III (voice of Fruit Bat), Michael King (additional drum programming on Fortitude)

THE FALL I FELL

I first heard of Ian Cooke because of my pal Jeremy Owen. Jeremy linked to a video of his “super-talented” friend from Denver playing a live show; Cooke played the entire song solo, just his voice, his cello, and a groovebox. The track I first heard was “The Rot,” mashed up with a Joanna Newsom track and an ABBA track. Now, I am not an ABBA fan, and I had not heard of Joanna Newsome (at that time), but I LOVED the track. It was amazing not only for the fact that Cooke was playing one of my favorite instruments (the cello, woefully underutilized in popular music), not only for the fact that he has as incredibly original tone to his voice, but for the fact that it was just him by himself. I was hooked, and had to find out more. I looked up Ian Cooke’s Bandcamp page, and found that “The Rot” was a track from THE FALL I FELL, which I ordered that day. The physical copy of THE FALL I FELL would arrive a few days later, but I received immediate access to the album via MP3 download, and the digital version also included 4 additional live tracks, which was just an extra bit of awesomeness. As soon as it was done downloading, I put it on my iPod… and it has been there ever since (this was over a year ago).

TFIF is a shining example of pop music done right. Usually, if someone would say “listen to this pop song” I would turn up my nose and refuse; in general pop music is a watered down version of rock, and it is mass produced quickly for the most radio appeal possible, with little regard to the quality of the music or the lyrics accompanying. I consider TFIF “pop” because of the subject matter (much of the album is about love, a very common subject for pop), the easy-listening quality, and the wide appeal I feel it would have if it were more widely available. Truthfully, much of TFIF reminds me of The Beatles more orchestral works, which cannot be a bad thing! How TFIF is leaps and bounds above the average pop album is the intricate, beautiful music and the thoughtful, interesting lyrics.

“Music can make meaningless things seem so significant / And I don’t use other ways to say the things I mean because / I know it may not matter that I think you’re magnificent / But I hope this music makes it seem as though it does.” These are the opening lyrics from “Music,” the first track on TFIF. I was impressed before even starting the album, from what I had seen and heard on YouTube, but those lyrics struck a chord with me. There is a reason we write songs about the things we love and / or pine for, and “Music” just perfectly explains why more so than any other song I have ever heard. All throughout TFIF, examples of Cooke’s lyrical prowess abound. On “The Rot” Cooke sings “When it gets bad I tell you about the pain’s severity / And you always say it’s not your heart complaining, it’s your brain / I intend to demonstrate through verse and dexterity / That it’s not a choice to make, and either way it hurts the same,” again talking about love unrequited.

What is even more impressive to me than the fact that the man can write awesome lyrics, is the fact that he can deliver those lyrics with just-as-awesome music and vocals to back them up. I have been a fan of the cello since I first heard Nirvana use it in their music. I had heard the cello before, but it never really made an impression on me until Nirvana, which was my favorite band at the time. Hearing the way this orchestral instrument was used in popular music hooked me, and since then I have wondered why it is not used more. Cooke sounds classically trained – while I don’t know if he is or not, I have no problem envisioning him sitting in an orchestra – but obviously has a much wider base of influence than the classical. His music moves and weaves, it is not just easy but at times it rocks. In addition to the deftly played cello (and piano, and percussion) provided by Cooke himself, his backing band also is overflowing with talent. And just to top it all off (as if it needed to be topped), Cooke’s voice has a beautiful, very original tone; he can hit both high and low notes with equal aptitude. Also, you know that Cooke is a truly talented singer by the fact that his voice sounds JUST AS GOOD live as it does on his studio recordings… no auto-tune here!

To make TFIF an even better production, the CD comes with a live DVD (which will be reviewed later on this site), and the two discs are packaged in an origami sleeve! I have never seen packaging like TFIF’s, but it comes as no surprise that the packaging would be original, different, and beautiful, as that pretty much sums up my feelings about every part of this album.

Overall, I just can’t sing enough praises for TFIF to really get across how much I love this album. Highly, highly recommended for anyone that loves music… period.

Overall 9 / 10

FORTITUDE

As you may well expect from reading above, I have been greatly anticipating Cooke’s follow-up to TFIF, FORTITUDE. The first track, “A Reasonable Life,” sounded like it could have come directly off of TFIF, and I was expecting this album to be more of the same – which would not be a bad thing at all for me. However, as soon as “The Towering Prince” kicks in, it was obviously apparent that FORTITUDE was not TFIF2 at all.

While TFIF is dominated (musically) by Cooke’s cello, FORTITUDE quickly veers from this direction. From the beginning of “The Towering Inferno,” track 2, the album moves away from cello based pop and moves more into mid-70’s progressive rock. “The Towering Inferno” immediately brings to mind classic Rush, and throughout FORTITUDE I hear hints of Genesis, Kansas, King Crimson. This prog feeling is evident in the music, which (other than a few exceptions) does not lean on the cello nearly as heavily as TFIF does, but also in the lyrics.

TFIF is an album heavily about love; FORTITUDE has very few references to this subject matter, and when it does talk about love it does so in much more unconventional ways. For example, “Cassowary & Fruit Bat,” a pretty little story about a fruit bat that has fallen in love with a suicidal cassowary that pines for the fruit bat’s ability of flight. Still a song about love, yes, but not at all like “Music” that is Cooke directly searching for love; the songs on FORTITUDE are much more often stories than the lyrical poetry that appears on TFIF, another very “prog” characteristic. Truthfully, if you’re paying attention, the prog rock roots are evident before you even start listening to the album, the cover art (painted by Cooke) would fit on any mid to late-70’s prog album out there, and as an added bonus, you can get FORTITUDE on transparent-green or white vinyl in addition to CD or MP3!

Now, I do not want to give the impression that FORTITUDE is completely, 100% different from TFIF, and is a complete diversion from the music Cooke establishes on TFIF. It is not. TFIF has hints of FORTITUDE in it, generally when Cooke is playing other instruments besides the cello, and when his band has a more active role in the songs. On FORTITUDE you can still hear the beauty of Cooke’s cello shining through, and a few tracks are very similar (for example, “An American Girl,” which is one of the bonus live tracks on TFIF) to the style employed on the former album. Cooke’s lyrical ability is still evident on FORTITUDE as well, his subject matter is just more diverse, as is the music accompanying the lyrics. FORTITUDE is musically challenging, while being easily accessible – an apparent harmonic oxymoron I know, but FORTITUDE is easy to listen to while hard to completely comprehend. I feel that musicians will get a much deeper appreciation out of what is going on with FORTITUDE, while the average music fan can easily enjoy what is presented to them.

Overall, I feel that FORTITUDE is a solid follow up to TFIF. It shows Cooke’s musical diversity, his intelligence, and his willingness to experiment. He easily could have made TFIF2, and I would have been completely happy with that, though I would not have been as impressed as I am with his decision to take his music in a completely different direction. I am not a huge prog rock fan (though I have nothing against prog rock, it’s just not something I’ve ever really been “in to”), if I was I’m sure that I would love this album even more than its predecessor. With that being, said I still love FORTITUDE. It is an extremely impressive experiment in a genre that is not often heard these days, and I feel it is an extremely strong entry into that genre’s canon.

Overall 8 / 10

Both albums can be purchased at: http://iancooke.bandcamp.com

Ian Cooke Site: http://www.iancookemusic.com


THE FALL I FELL


FORTITUDE

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6 thoughts on “Ian Cooke Double Feature: The Fall I Fell (2007) & Fortitude (2011)

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