In the deepest recesses of the country, popular culture seems to experience fantastic mood swings. The hamlets digest the spillover from the metropolis, until whatever's left of the fads is pumped out of the cobblestone well in the form of some trippy, nuanced mélange of a genre, which then—as is customary—begins to devour the popularity of its source material. Then the world goes on; the caterpillar hides in its cocoon 'til it's time to fly away, and everybody waits for what's next. But before that happens, magical gestations occur in the most silent of bowels.
Hinting at the cyclical, mysterious, and plain wonderful nature of cocoons is an easy mark, though, when you're navigating the silken pupae of Cotton Jones and, more specifically, their fluttering debut album, Paranoid Cocoon.
That Paranoid Cocoon dabbles in '60s psychedelic folk and jazzy pop isn't strange on its own; nor is the fact that the duo—comprised of Michael Nau, former bandleader of Page France, and Whitney McGraw—resides in Cumberland, Maryland, a parish that boasts a grand total of just over 20,000 citizens. What's strange is that such a well-endowed musical roar emerged from such a quiet quartet of lungs.
Cotton Jones' debut is marked by mellow drifts of shoegazer melancholy, with tracks like "Gotta Cheer Up" offering glimpses into a spooky, reverb-dripping, grainy movie reel, like discarded soundtracks from an Ed Wood production. There are sentimental numbers, too, which seep with bubble-slick finger-picking, distant drumming, sunny organs, and the timeless harmonies of the Nau/McGraw duet—equal parts rustic back-porch pajama party and deadly serious post-Americana vortex. To clarify, the band's psychedelic-soul hybrid gets a lot of undue comparisons to the Doors; Nau's mystic muses more accurately align him with the majesty of the somber tortoise than with Jim Morrison's boasted lizard nobility.
Whichever way you side with Cotton Jones—and there are three sides: their indelible grasp of subtlety, their manipulation of what has proven to be a viable musical milieu, and their gift of a superbly captured moment in time—there's no denying Paranoid Cocoon is a terribly substantial statement, not just within the lexicon of 2009's best albums, but especially after their impending, albeit unplanned, spillover.