I was, admittedly, late to the game. The game being, in this instance, the maze of music at the centre of which South Carolina musician Mathew Lee Cothran has made his home for the past nine or so years.
More widely known as one half of Elvis Depressedly with Delaney Mills, Cothran had, until last year, been releasing solo material as Coma Cinema. Most of this material was either folk-tinged bedroom pop or more straightforward rock which directly contrasted Elvis Depressedly’s shoegaze and folk balancing act.
My First Love Mends My Final Days, Cothran’s latest release, veers significantly from its direct predecessors, 2017’s Loss Memory (as Coma Cinema) and Judas Hung Himself in America, both of which were dotted with simple, irresistible melodies delivered somewhat dejectedly, as if in spite of themselves.
My First Love, instead, revels in a watery blend of feedback, echoes, and reverb, through which Cothran channels most of what makes his other projects so compelling: an immediately downcast demeanor under which lurks a musician whose practice at this point is so well-refined, that the bittersweet melody of, for example, “Purple Mountain,” could very well have been exploited in the interest of a more accessible project. Instead, what we get are a series of songs that rely on melody and hook-based choruses to the same extent that modern pop does, but are set apart by confessional narratives that are given the same amount of space as the melody and harmony. This is to say, every element on the record is made to intermingle, so that while “First Love” is, lyrically, a eulogy of sorts directed at Cothran’s youth, it wavers between downcast and hopeful, and the melody Cothran sings is neither more nor less prominent than the instrumental cocoon around/beside it.
At the very least, decisions like this are indicative of the fact that Cothran understands and exploits the relationship between voice and instrument — or, rather, that he consistently opts for a relationship wherein voice is an instrument, and is used in harmony with the rest of the elements on any one track. This, coupled with songs that are each melodically distinct, but thematically (insofar as composition and lyricism are concerned) consistent, makes for a project that reveals itself continuously to the listener.
And in spite of its slow tempos and soft-spokenness, the eight songs on the record, when listened to either idly or intently, perform the same function that top 40 pop demands of its proponents: intoxication, or a kind of infiltration of the mind, wherein a Trojan horse, musical as opposed to wooden, is given leave to enter the city, and having done so, dispatches its clandestine passengers at the most trivial of times, upon which they busy themselves not with sabotage, but with the successful advertisement and enforcement of a single, overwhelmingly powerful command: whoever you are, whatever you’re doing, remember to feel.