12 O'Clock Track: Cotton Mather, "Vegetable Row" | Bleader

12 O'Clock Track: Cotton Mather, "Vegetable Row"

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In mid-February a label called Star Apple Kingdom gave the "deluxe edition" reissue treatment to Cotton Mather's Kontiki. "Cotton who?" you may ask. Cotton Mather the band (as opposed to Cotton Mather the Puritan minister) were a trio from Austin, Texas, that released one of the sharpest guitar-pop albums of the past 20 years. Kontiki, which came out in 1997 on the tiny Copper Records, is precise, superhooky, inventively produced, and heavily Beatlesque (I've never heard their 1994 debut, Cotton Is King). It barely made a ripple in the U.S., but it attracted a bunch of press in the UK—and this was years before the Internet was able to help a regional band catch on like wildfire. Apparently both Noel and Liam Gallagher of Oasis loved it, though admittedly that doesn't seem like a good reason for anyone to care about Cotton Mather at this point.

I was surprised when a copy of the reissue turned up in my mailbox, accompanied by a second disc containing a dozen demos and rarities. I hadn't thought about Cotton Mather in many years, and to say I did much thinking about them at all overstates the case. I couldn't even remember when I'd gotten rid of my original copy of Kontiki. But I put the album on and certain songs instantly triggered memories—the whole thing is much better than I remembered. "My Before and After" and "Vegetable Row," which is today's 12 O'Clock Track, sound totally vibrant and exciting, but also totally familiar—more than a decade later their hooks still kill. The harmony singing is strong, the production terrific, and the melodies sometimes achieve the sublime. I don't know if I'd call it a bona fide classic, but I'm pretty sure you won't find a band that can poke a bigger hole in the Great Man theory than Cotton Mather. They broke up in 2003, after a handful of subsequent singles and another album, and reunited for a performance at SXSW last month—but I don't want a comeback. I'm fine with a second chance to dig Kontiki.

Cotton Mather, "Vegetable Row"

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