Cousin Kula / The Louisiana, Bristol | 29th of November

Cousin Kula / The Louisiana, Bristol | 29th of November

The Louisiana, a corner bar of white brick and black beams, is something of a prestigious location for emerging, thriving artists. The interior accounts for this, sporting three decades worth of posters; an eclectic array of acts who’ve previously performed include Jose Gonzalez, Amy Winehouse, Stereophonics…

On Wednesday 29th November, in celebration of its 30th anniversary, the venue welcomed Bristol’s own Cousin Kula. It’s not so difficult to imagine that, given a few years, they too may rise to impressive acclaim. This gig served as the full debut of their debut EP – ‘Oodles’.

Supported well by the mellow sound of Two Day Coma and Harvey Causon, the six-piece band took to the stage just shy of ten p.m. Trombone and saxophone tinkered with, bass and guitars plugged, sound check complete. A busying room.

The first track commenced with an eerie drive of trombone (played by the synth keyboardist Will Wells on the right of stage) and sax (by the Rhodes keyboardist Doug Cave, opposite him). Quick and rhythmic snare joins the jingle of keyboard to form the opening of Hesitation. The lead vocalist, Elliot Ellison, has a voice almost non-comparable to others. It is grainy and somewhat ethereal, yet it harnesses great power. The band’s lyrics are at certain junctures abstract and muffled, at others gritty and relatable. ‘My formulations, keeping patience, waiting…hesitation takes its place, my idea’s leave no trace’. These words (the final clause doesn’t ring true), backdropped by visuals akin to white noise, lent the room a sense of a show just getting started. On stage, bodies began to jolt in synchrony. The synthesiser emerged progressively from the dim room, the snare slowed but was unyielding, and distortion on the vocals drove the track towards its conclusion.

Yo, we’re Cousin Kula.

The second song worked to a 4/4 beat, predominantly keyboard with electronic intonations, elongations, alongside punchy notes from the five-string bass. The frontman’s turquoise guitar provided support to the lyrics ‘I never told you why. I never used to cry’. There is a discernibly mournful element to the band’s music. Such emotion functions just as poignantly as that which it offsets: heavier, rock influenced sections. Working together throughout the gig, these modes and styles lend the band an exciting and distinctive sound.

A broken lead. The rolling rhythm of hi-tom and rim clicks fill the slight pause.

Next was a track called Off Your Chest, the final one not yet released from the new EP. It has a techno like influence and smart guitar work. The volume of the synthesiser rises and falls in response to vocal crescendos. Some light hi-hat work ‘to keep it alive, this feeling’. On the screen behind the energetic band, iridescent stripes now, luminous greens and pinks, harbouring in a transition to sax led funk. Backing vocals come and go, adding to the trance like multiplicity. A load of reverb. A load of fun.

Another new one. Titled It’s Natural. The hi-hat counts in, prompting a lo-fi tune as existential as Kula’s existing repertoire (‘it’s alright here beneath your feet’/ ‘it’s only natural having temptation’), which moves to a higher tempo via electronic riffs and swirling solos of the Rhodes piano. Ollie Horne’s bass was thick and heavy. Rearing its head once more was the odd crossroads seemingly at the core of the band’s production = you want to move, to dance, but you just as easily find yourself caught up, content absorbing the music, nodding lightly to its rhythms, pondering.

Cousin Kula / The Louisiana, Bristol

Cousin Kula / The Louisiana, Bristol

On the next track, an initially jumpy falsetto proclaims ‘you can take too many chances’ and ‘positive is something I’ll never feel’, aptly accompanied by deep, dark bass and slowing lyrics. The genre is hard to locate, it has a soulful, blues-esque feel. Fittingly, Ellison sports all black, a tee tucked into high waisted jeans. The next song, however, is called Happiness, and reflects the message on that tee – ‘c’mon, get happy’. The notion is encouraged, its absence perhaps lamented, by the titular word, repeated in beautifully wavering acapella. This track, short but potent, sees the frontman dominate proceedings, and finishes with a funky guitar rhythm.

A fraction of a second’s silence, cheers, and Working for It (their fourth single) kicks in.

And my does it kick in.

Atmospheric bass shakes the walls. Psychedelic guitar riffs drive the number. The first word: ‘disconnected’. The keyboards don’t stay as such, their melodies marvelously supplement the lead guitar. Perhaps their best known, the track perhaps also sports the band’s finest vocal performance. ‘I’m not complaining, I’m just feeling tired’. Three and a half minutes in, the synths push these vocals toward a beautiful rise and eventually to the exit, summoning in its place a room-absorbing progressive-rock solo from Jordan’s lead guitar.

With jolting, sweat ridding arms, Ellison thanks the crowd. It should be the other way. We acknowledge the realisation.

At its outset, Ode to Lyle is also cosmic and deeply atmospheric. It contains impressive instrumental displays throughout. By this track – a meandering rock number cradling jazz inflections – the two people directly in front of me were rightfully shimmying away. Quick snare rolls from James Vine on drums lend a frantic feel… ‘desensitised…I need to focus’. The 2/4 beat thereafter permits ‘a little clarity’. The riffs of the guitar and high note synths flourished, stirring the crowd into a mild frenzy. Rolling shoulders.

Cousin Kula / The Louisiana, Bristol

Cousin Kula / The Louisiana, Bristol

The night’s penultimate piece seemed all encompassing. I noted once again – and it’s been discussed in prior coverage of them – that the band produces seemingly incongruous twists of musicality in their tracks. To great effect. Their idiosyncratic sound is a chimera of sorts, representing and reflecting the range of tastes on display. A wooden block, playing up and down the scales a couple of times, kicked off an instrumental interlude. Hair covered eyes across the stage. A slick afrobeat. The lead guitar performance was immersive, wild and bold, accepting after a short time an equally funky sax accompaniment from its right hand side. The track brilliantly recruited interplay of 7/8 and 4/4 time signatures, until rim clicks stole the room for a few seconds, a brief breather. The second half of the track involved a keyboard solo and powerful, arcade-esque synths, evoking a postmodern Pink Floyd. The incremental slowing of the beat was just that, gradual, natural, and our cheers were gratefully accepted. The energy!

What You Know, their final performance, was (is) a nuanced and remarkable track. What I know is that. Primarily vocals to begin, before morphing into a form of psych-pop with an early Tame Impala feel to it. The keyboards are consistent in their upward drones. A piano interlude welcomes the primary emotive lyric ‘don’t force it, be who you are’. After four or so minutes and a licking guitar riff comes a sweet R&B downturn. The crooned concluding words are striking – ‘you are unforgettable’. The crowd echoed the sentiment. I feel altogether similar.

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