Philadelphia indie act soars on debut album
“How do I hang on to the happy parts?” asks Philadelphia-based indie-rocker Nathan Tucker on “Correct The Record,” the third track from his solo project Cool Original’s excellent new album. It’s a question that seems to reverberate across the entirety of I Never Said I Didn’t Care, one that informs the restless examinations of the past that make up many of Tucker’s songs. The record often finds him reminiscing on memories of yesteryear, sometimes with a wistful hint of nostalgia, but even when the memories are good it’s hard to keep the bitterness from creeping in.
I Never Said I Didn’t Care is Tucker’s first full-length under the name Cool Original. For the past few years he’s recorded under the similarly Doritos-adjacent moniker Cool American. It’s a change that’s also accompanied by a shift in locale, with Tucker recently making the move from his longtime-home of Portland, OR to the indie hotbed of Philadelphia along with his Strange Ranger bandmates (he plays drums in the group)–a different name and a different place offering something of a fresh start, perhaps. But the new album isn’t so much of a departure from past work as it is a satisfying expansion. I Never Said I Didn’t Care finds Tucker pushing himself to new heights–the hooks are catchier, the production is sharper, and the songwriting is more adventurous–but still it all feels of a piece, whether he’s channeling Elliott Smith (“Knife’s Edge”) or ripping emo riffs and shredding his vocal chords (“When I Miss The 19”).
Tucker’s music first came to my attention via a collection of demos he put out in 2016 as Cool American called Better Luck Next Year. Those eight tracks are stripped down, mostly acoustic, but even in that context there’s something easily distinguishable about Tucker’s guitar-playing and songwriting, a distinct authorial voice that pervades his work, both new and old. He has a way of crafting melodies that seem to have a mind of their own, twisting themselves in directions one wouldn’t expect, but always remaining tuneful.
Standout single “Not Like That” features one of his strongest hooks to date, an anthemic explosion of a chorus that practically forces you to sing along: “Shouting out ‘it’s not like that’ / It’s not like that, it’s not like that.” There’s a deep frustration implicit in his insistent lyrics, but his reserved delivery comes off more weary than angry, like he’s simply exhausted from shouting into the void. “Offended” occupies similar territory, evoking the sort of condescending social interaction that leaves you fuming for hours afterward, one that shouldn’t matter, but is all the more upsetting because you can’t seem to move past it. (“And your tone is not an accident, no you meant it / But I’m the one offended.”) With its multiple key changes and fuzzy, layered melodies it would play like a Weezer song were it not for Tucker’s mellow vocals. He sings in the present tense (“You’re feeling violent, an uninspired rage has settled deep within your skull / How’d they turn out so well?”) but it’s as if he’s approaching the situation from the future, at a point when the rage has left and all that remains is burnt-out bitterness.
These are undoubtedly Tucker’s strongest batch of tunes yet; here he has managed to find a way to deftly synthesize his taste for unorthodox chord progressions with pristine pop melodies, and his lyrics dig thoughtfully into a specific sort of millennial malaise. But for all its discontent I Never Said I Didn’t Care still manages to strike a warm tone; beneath the painful memories and poignant reflections lies an ode, of sorts, to all of that which comes with the “sluggish haze of late summer months.”
Fans can order a copy of the album on a USB drive sealed inside of a bag of Cool Ranch Doritos for $50 (yes, really)–or you can just buy a normal digital copy here. You can sample it below as well via Bandcamp.