Howard Louis – Cutting Cords (Remixed & Remastered) – Album Review
Let’s all say it together this time…’a great song is never finished, only abandoned.’ So too would be the case for an album by that logic. Back in 2010, Howard Louis put out his debut record Cutting Cords – and here it is again in 2018 refreshed & revitalized in its new remixed & remastered form. What I’m trying to figure out the most is how hard of a time to give Howard; we last heard from him in a review of his album Having Stung Moves On… in early 2016…and by his own notes accompanying his re-release of his debut album, you’ll see a full admission of happily shipping these songs over to Chris Stever to work his magic on them. So like…what are YOU doing over there Howard? That’s the missing piece of the puzzle here. I got no beef with putting out an old record, especially if you didn’t feel like it got the attention it deserved or that it could have all sounded better somehow…for sure, then those songs deserve a new life no doubt. I’ve just got this image of Howard with his feet up on the couch & drinking a Mai-Tai while all this work on his music is going on somehow – so I’m taking this opportunity to poke him in the ribs a bit and remind him there’s much new ground still to be covered out there, new songs to be written, new sounds to be discovered…and to keep that going. I’m gonna assume he’s busy writing new material whilst all this excitement with his past is going on.
Anyhow…that’s a bit of the ol’ history on what’s up here for ya on Cutting Cords. I haven’t heard the original recording myself, but I’d imagine that in putting this record out again eight years later, that Howard is happy with how these songs have come out now…or at least more-so than before. Can’t say I blame him when it comes to that aspect…Stever has definitely done his thing and made this record sparkle & shine, the songs sound great. Interesting to take this trip back in time with Howard…he’s clearly always been a solid songwriter…I’d imagine it’s incredibly satisfying for him to hear these songs come out closer to what he’s always envisioned them to be after recording them so long ago.
Beginning with “Comin’ Round” – Howard puts his lyricism on display in the spotlight on this first tune, weaving a complicated tale of life & love. I’m not 100% sure of what’s exactly happening here…but I can tell ya for certain that he’s dealing with a lot of complex emotions and personal acceptance on this cut. It’s definitely well put together structurally and written with an interesting point of view…I think any resistance I had towards this tune is much more of a reflection upon me and my grizzled grey-bearded gruffness trying to push back against the peppy sound of the verses of “Comin’ Round” than it is anything to do with Howard’s execution. He does what he does really well…and I suppose here on what would be track one from an experience from eight years ago, he’s proven that he’s always had a great grip on how to make his material stand out for one reason or another. “Comin’ Round” has plenty of punch & pep in its step…but almost playful in a sense too, like a song from the playground of your childhood at times or that cheeky spirit you have so much of when you’re still just a young tadpole. It’s no juvenile tune by any stretch, which you can definitely pick up on through the words and musicianship – but at the same time that theatrical, curious & playful attitude in the music is prevalent at all times.
“Do It Again” is probably a bit closer to my own personal taste than the opening track was; or at the very least, the slow parts of this tune. There are a couple tracks on this record where Howard will throw the switch and shift into dramatically different energy, “Do It Again” is the first of those examples. Overall, it makes for an adventurous listening experience, and I can appreciate that; I think as a natural result, as listeners, we’ll probably all reach our own conclusions as to what the most defining hooks are. For me, it’s the verses and the build-up towards the chorus…for you, it might very well be the switch into the more pop-inspired indie-folk hooks you’ll find in the actual chorus itself…and good on ya, to each his/her own. I remain a massive fan of the way Howard plays piano, I think he’s an incredible player with an extraordinary touch…a real gift for drawing out the melody in his songwriting. As far as the more up-tempo parts of “Do It Again,” I’d say I enjoyed them…I can definitely appreciate that again, for many people out there, they’ll be bound to be their favorite moments of this second tune. I dig the man at his most subtle, what can I say? Moments like listening to him sing around the 1:35 mark sound wonderfully inspired…there’s never an issue with Howard when it comes to his tone or energy – a standard that applies to this song and certainly the others as well…dude’s a great singer.
What I definitely dig about Howard is that he’s more than good enough at what he does to pull you into environments and atmospheres you wouldn’t expect, and quite willingly. I mean, he’s nearly reaching right into a Tango on “Revolutionary Idiot Society” – and while I can’t profess to really rocking many Tango-esque tunes over here on the regular, I can definitely appreciate the expressive nature of this song and the art it shows in the craft of his songwriting. Plus that breakdown…that breakdown! Quite honestly, that’s a serious highlight in this tune and a great moment on the record. Howard’s diving deeper into the theatrical aspects of his sound & style here, delivering insightful social commentary along the way in a song that might be much more relevant now than when it was originally written. Everything about this cut seems to bring this really strange grin to my face…I know it’s not what I’d typically listen to style-wise, but listening to the incredible lyrics he’s written into this tune, I mean, all this is right up my alley. Even the title itself, “Revolutionary Idiot Society” – it all adds up here. Howard has a great way of inserting his perspective & insight into his writing…he never makes it so pointed that you could single out any one subject, but you can definitely assume a lot of things from what he’s saying. This cut gets political, personal, heck, it even deals with climate change ahead of its time eight years ago, features a killer breakdown/solo moment…and exposes a lot of our idiocracy for what it is. Love the additional personality that comes through the background vocals added into this tune as well.
“I Have Tried You” is quite the heartfelt little melody ain’t it? A dedicated love-song without apologies, Howard takes you through a quaint less-than-two-minute tune that could be about a person…heck, it could even be about a good looking ad he’s seen online…it’s honestly hard to say 100% for sure. And it’s kind of because of that, that I really found this innocent little tune quite fascinating. I mean…I think it’s about a person…I’m like, 99% sure…I think it’s the digital references and imagery that Howard’s laced into the words of this song that are throwing me off a firm conclusion. Regardless…it’s quite a killer cut when it comes right down to it…savage really – “I Have Tried You” is almost an ode to all-things-window-dressing before it reveals how hollow that kind of admiration really is. There’s a neat like player-piano sound to this song that runs through its vibe at times, which I really dig as well…kind of like that ol’ saloon sound built somehow into the fabric & spirit of this song, despite its more modern-based theme. “You have an interesting story, but lack a denouement. “ is one of the biggest literary burns I think I’ve ever heard in a song…like…I mean…if someone said that to me, I’ll admit it, I’d be devastated! As per the title of the song and themes of many of these tunes on Cutting Cords, Howard again, has tried something, and he’s moving on to whatever comes next as he navigates the ups/downs of life itself. It’s not often that you can always make the impact you want to within a short timeframe, but as far as this record is concerned, every time a song hovered around the two-minute mark, they’d hit the mark 100%.
LISTEN to the gorgeous mystery & melancholy that quickly shrouds the atmosphere of “Not The Best Day Had By A Human” – I absolutely loved the way this song opens. Dude’s got a real gift when it comes to his piano playing and I think he really puts that ability to combine emotion & instrumentation right into the spotlight as this song begins. Full disclosure – you’re NOT ready for the switch this song will make…you’re just not. Even with this advance warning, you still won’t be ready for just how intense and rock-filled this song ends up becoming. Honestly even though I’ve spun the record several times over, I still feel like it always catches me off-guard too…the polar extremes of this song are as verifiable different as black is to white. Hard to say 100% how I feel about this tune – I get so wrapped up in the melodic & softer sides of “Not The Best Day Had By A Human” that I could feel myself resisting a bit as the song would transform into its more riotous energy…but then like, every time I was in the middle of those parts, I’d eventually succumb to the vibe and dig that as well. And don’t get me wrong, even the transitions are smooth as can be between parts…it’s all meant to be together, but it is probably a bit jarring or jolting for what you’ll first expect or assume that this song would be. Overall, it’s an ambitious tune for how much ground it covers…and I’d suspect it’s a lot of fun to switch into the most energetic moments of “Not The Best Day Had By A Human” – but man it’s those mellower moments that really hit the mark for me personally. Like on the way into the third minute…that’s exquisite stuff right there – and highly inventive in the mix as well…Howard’s captivating up front while just as many amazing things are happening around him in the background. And all this being said…I think that the Rock-fueled half of this song continues to grow on ya eventually after you know it’s comin’ at ya…undeniable energy there.
After the last song, Howard’s got me a bit gun-shy when it came to listening to the delicate melody of “Hatchet.” Cause let me tell ya…I get like, a minute or so into this song, and I’m pretty much ready to hand this guy the award for most beautiful melody of the year…but now the question becomes, will it hold on? Is Howard going to get the talented Matt Martin to rip out the guitars and punk the middle of this song up like the last one, or is it going to remain in its boldly beautiful atmosphere? After the experience with “Not The Best Day Had By A Human” I think we’re all back to being right on our toes as listeners, fully anticipating that Louis could take his music in any style or direction at the drop of a hat. And I’m just gonna say it…I’m gonna say it plainly, just like I feel like saying it – keeping this song in the gear it essentially starts in, was a really, really good move here. Some songs are so captivating that they don’t need a giant dramatic switch or new avenue in sound halfway through – and this is one of them. It delicately fills itself in perfectly, subtly, and beautifully. Howard sounds amazing on “Hatchet” – this song is a serious highlight, right in the middle of Cutting Cords. I mean look, I’ve clearly enjoyed myself so far in listening to Cutting Cords – but this…THIS is the artist that I always seem to feel like Howard is capable of being. So no disrespect to his more up-tempo vibes, I’m just saying that when this dude goes full-melody, he can’t be beat. The verses are spectacular on “Hatchet” – his vocals, his piano playing…it’s stunning, it’s breathtaking…lyrically, it’s some of Howard’s most incredible words. Much like the theme of Cutting Cords, it’s about that separation between part-A & part-B of your life – which may actually happen several times over, you’re welcome to label the experiences however you’d like to, but you get what I mean. It’s taking that “Hatchet” to cut the cords and being unafraid to explore & accept whatever might come next in an effort & pursuit to become someone or something more somehow. Or at least, that’s what I’m hearing in this tune. Bottom line is, Howard sounds magnificent on this tender melody…empowering & confident when required, isolated & intimate when it’s called for – his whole performance on “Hatchet” is truly exceptional.
I also think the delicate sound and approach to “Hatchet” opens up the possibilities for a song like “The Mood” to be readily accepted. I’ve got an incredible amount of love for this short song and how Howard has handled “The Mood” so confidently. There is…NO music at all – but there certainly IS melody…and a strong voice filled with emotion to guide you through this a-cappella concept. Let’s be clear though – it takes courage to go after a song like this. Howard is as naked as the day he was born in the mix of this song, out there on his own with just his stunning voice as a light in the darkness. And that’s where the real magic of this singer/songwriter’s singer-side shines through brightly…I really dig this intimate tune. He takes this moment and embraces it with confidence, projecting clearly and powerfully with his voice. Howard’s not in “The Mood” for many things on this particular cut, but he sounds great while expressing what’s not motivating him and the things he doesn’t care about much on our planet. Like an isolated admission of thoughts dominating his mind and freeing them aloud into the universe in order to let go of these feelings & emotions once and for all…there’s a cathartic aspect to “The Mood” unlike any other tune on this record. Like a song you can always carry with you and sing to yourself to relieve the pressures of your everyday life and take a moment to unburden your soul before carrying on.
The words on “Noise” are also another incredible highlight on this album as far as I’m concerned. Barely over two-minutes long, Howard plays this one smartly by keeping the ingredients minimalistic, allowing the concise words on this short song to make a big impact. Like there are almost no words at all in the final thirty seconds or so of this tune, and in my opinion, it’s one of the moments where Howard’s vocals & lyrics shine the brightest. There’s a really sincere and humble sound that comes along with the weight of emotions and imagery in his words on “Noise” – harder to explain this song than it is any other on the record. I think Howard has found a real gem here…a song that really examines the impact of life before & after…what we can accomplish or contribute in the time we have…and what we hope for when it comes to the experience of life. Could be in the context of love or art, maybe even just being here, living & breathing…”Noise” is a blissfully calm reflection of the aftermath of said “Noise” – really cool tune.
Ultimately, I also think that middle point with “Hatchet” opens up the entire record to a chain reaction or string of tender tunes to follow, including “The Mood,” “Noise” and “Head Revolution” subsequently. “Head Revolution” is quite an inspiring and empowering tune overall…and I think you can really get that from both the music and the lyrics of this song. There’s no doubt that the song isn’t the happiest of melodies you’ll find out there – but if you listen closely, underneath the surface, these themes are built on strengths, insightful observations, and personal growth. Definitely a lot of insight into the person & artist that Howard becomes over the years to follow on “Head Revolution” – that could be speculation, but I think there are a lot of key indicators that he’ll share with you that show the blueprints of his thinking when it comes to life throughout this album and certainly on this song. Thematically, I really dig a lot of where Howard’s coming from in the lyrics on this record…like I said earlier, you can hear that a lot of what he’s been singing about in 2010 has steered the course of his direction as an artist today. The piano on “Head Revolution” is as stunning as ever, and more or less, Howard’s much on his own like he was in “The Mood” with just the one instrument to back him up. He does really well in these situations, truly rising to the occasion & opportunity, ready to supply the songs with the melody they need through his vocals. “Head Revolution” is without question, one of his best performances on the microphone that you’ll find on this album, and that’s saying quite a bit really, he’s always spot-on.
Previously unreleased from the original version of Cutting Cords, is the new addition to the Remixed & Remastered album eight years later, a song called “1920.” And let me just say a quick thank-you to Howard…it’s so much better when things like this work out…I feel like the pressure’s off me now because this is a great tune to have added to this lineup. It’s not just that it’s new to the set – it’s written in tribute to his Nana, originally to celebrate her 90th birthday back in 2010, and unfortunately she’s passed on this year now in 2018. So believe me…the last thing I wanted to do was find something I’d have to pick apart for the wrong reasons…I’m more than thankful that Howard has truly written a gorgeous song in honor of his Nana – it’s beautiful. I completely agree with what I’ve read in the write-up on this album and how Howard felt this was an essential inclusion onto this updated edition of Cutting Cords – he was right about that; it’s not just a good song, it’s a real highlight in this set of tunes. It was also written at the same time as the original record more or less, which helps it fit right into this lineup; the words are sweet as sweet can be, and you get some family history in this tune as well, making it a tale for the rest of us to enjoy. Everything about “1920” sounds like it came straight from the heart…the execution is immaculate and there’s no denying he’s written an incredible song here.
Perhaps for comparison to show us exactly how far the sound on this record has evolved, Howard includes “Comin’ Round” again in the ‘Original 4-Track Demo’ form at the very end. So in that sense, it serves a purpose. On the other hand…I think I can honestly say I likely enjoyed each song in between the two versions of “Comin’ Round” more than the one song featured twice on this record…so there’s that. I’ve often made comments about the risks of burning a song out quickly by having it appear 2x on an album when everything else gets the one shot…that effect can speed up exponentially when it’s not your favorite tune and vice-versa be much more readily accepted when it is. I think for myself, I enjoyed that aspect of hearing where the song originally came from and how it’s been dusted off and refreshed for the version that starts Cutting Cords (Remixed & Remastered) here in 2018…it’s neat history in audio and helps tell the true story of where these songs have journeyed.
So alright Howard Louis…you win. You’ve got a great new old album that’s certainly crisp & clear in sound now – the songs have become what you’ve pictured they could be all along…
…and now it’s time to write some new ones! An artist’s work is never done I tells ya. And I’m super greedy when it comes to music.
But I’ll tell ya something else as well – I’ll be looking forward to hearing those too, whenever those new tunes come around. Dude’s a great songwriter and has genuine passion you can always connect with.
Find out more about Howard Louis at his official page at Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/howardlouis
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