It took 15 years for Cotton Mather to follow-up its last album (2001’s The Big Picture) with 2016’s Death of The Cool, the first collection of songs compiled from band leader Robert Harrison’s ambitious, possibly impossible aim to write 64 tracks, one for each hexagram of the I Ching, the ancient text which he refers to as an “extraordinary book about ordinary life.”
Read more about the “Song From The I Ching” project via Texas Monthly’s article that launched the project on Nov. 16th, 2015.
As the year continued, one-off tunes were issued online in, as Harrison terms it, “real time and real weather.” Then, another official release, the three-track “Cotton Mather with Nicole Atkins EP” came along to close out the year. On April 7th, 2017, in what now seemed like the passing of just 15 minutes in the world of Cotton Mather, the band brought out the Wild Kingdom album, bringing together another 11 tracks, and landing Harrison near the half-way mark on the “Songs From The I Ching” project.
Now, Cotton Mather is ready to cross that line with the release of the “Young Life E.P.” on October 13th, adding six more originals to the “Songs From The I Ching” project (bringing the total number of tracks released to 35), while also offering up a more somber tone than Cotton Mather fans may expect.
Harrison explains, “When I said we’d be releasing 64 songs, little did I know what solemnity would be visited upon me in the summer of 2017.” In July, Harrison and company made a triumphant trip to Russia where they opened arena dates for rock icon and legend, Boris Grebeshnekov. Then back home, Harrison set about the task of completing these “heartache-tinged songs,” freshly inspired by their visit to the country where “melancholia is worn like a badge of honor.”
The results bare witness: two of the E.P.’s tracks, “Shepherds Purse” and “Mighty Girl,” are Cotton Mather’s final recordings with the band’s late bassist , George Reiff, who’d been with them since Kontiki.
“While I was writing the first half of the “Songs From The I Ching” project, I tended to circle the songs with a requisite richness and gravity because I thought it important to do something for the first release in fifteen years that we never could have done before,” Harrison says, reflecting upon the project’s arrival past the half-way point. “What’s the point ‘Relatively obscure indie cult band reunites to demonstrate that maybe going away the first time was just a fine idea?’ Uh, no thank you. You have to get better!”
Iconic Spoon front man, Britt Daniel once said of Cotton Mather’s 1997 underground classic album Kontiki that, “It gave me something to shoot for.” In addition to praise from musicians, the record was especially loved by the UK press, with both Uncut and The Guardian awarding it five-star ratings.
Like the instantly memorable pop songs that made (and make) Kontiki influential – a two-disc reissue released in 2012 received similar praise all over again – Cotton Mather’s “Songs From The I Ching” project continues in the Robert Harrisontradition of impeccable song craft that doesn’t ever let up on the hooks.
“Many successful bands are fairly monochromatic, which strikes me as both difficult and uninteresting,” Harrison explains. “My aim has always been to escape. To change the scenery behind the singer.”
A visit to the “Songs From The I Ching” website (ichingsongs.com) reveals a visual take on this idea, with imagery for each song from the project depicting Harrisonstanding in front of different scenes and locations such as Mt. Fuji, the Jardin des Tuileries, The Kansas City Monarchs, and the Terra Cota Soldiers, among others.
“But the problem always remains,” Harrison jokes, “It’s always just me.” For Cotton Mather’s loyal fans, that doesn’t seem to be much of a problem at all.
The “Young Life” E.P., the latest release by Cotton Mather, arrives on Oct. 13th, 2017 and contains six tracks comprising another portion of the 64-track “Songs From The I Ching” project that also includes the 11-song Death of The Coolalbum (released July 19th, 2016), the three-track “Cotton Mather with Nicole Atkins EP” (released December 30th, 2016), and the 11-song Wild Kingdomalbum (released April 7th, 2017), along with additional one-off, online-only songs released “in real time and real weather.”
Visit ichingsongs.com to read Robert Harrison’s in-depth song commentaries explaining the relationship between each individual track and the I Ching hexagram it is based on.