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Curtis Cooper takes us through their new Graceful LP, one song at a time

Curtis Cooper | photo by Kristina Abuladze | courtesy of the artist

A year and a half ago, Philadelphia singer-songwriter Curtis Cooper was emerging from a haze of addiction and depression, of deep personal lows and tragic losses in their circle of friends. The intense emotion surrounding this time period was channeled into Messy, Cooper’s turbulent sophomore album that is equally infused with propulsive punk, explosive electric guitar jazz and psychedelic rock, as well as cathartic screams into the void.

By the time the album was released in the autumn of 2017, Cooper was in a much better place in life then when it was written. They had come out as nonbinary — meaning that they don’t identify their gender as exclusively male or female, and use they/their pronouns —  they realized what a strong support network they had in their family and friends, and they were looking forward to their next chapter. In an interview at the time, Cooper told us that the new songs they were writing were more acoustic-based, with vocals in their upper register. “It’s a prettier voice, a falsetto,” Cooper said. “Which I didn’t think I was allowed to do because men aren’t supposed to sing high.”

They also said the album “is going to be a lot about gender and happiness. It helped coming out as nonbinary because it takes a lot of pressure off yourself. ‘I’m supposed to look this way, I’m supposed to act this way.’ All that crap is worked out. I’m definitely writing happy songs now, or at least positive songs now.”

Today, we’re happy to give you a first listen to the resulting album, Graceful. As Cooper’s quote suggested, reducing it to “happier” isn’t quite accurate — there are songs on here about navigating mental health struggles (“All of my life I’ve given a sign / And i know we don’t see what others see” in “All Of The Time”), there are songs about trying but still feeling not entirely comfortable with one’s outward appearance (“Does this fit right? / I can’t tell.” in “Best Dress”). But in the same way gender is complex, and not an either-or thing, so to is emotion, and to deny the nuance and range in our mental states is to deny our true selves. Cooper is right that the outlook at the end of Graceful is a positive one, as its best moments are about bravely expressing gender (“Graceful”), appreciating that you and your loved ones are alive (“I’m Glad”), and pushing to be the best person you can be.

On top of the lyrical themes, which Cooper has always excelled at unpacking, is an impressive musical range that dabbles in Appalachian folk and dreamy Beatles progressions a la Elliott Smith (“Outta Here”), urgent acoustic R&B and soul (the Ganou-featured “I Wish I Could Love You”), and nimble Latin jazz guitar (“Latency”). It’s Cooper’s strongest work to date, and we asked them to take us through the album one song at a time.       Continue reading →

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Curtis Cooper shares “Breathe Out” from new album Graceful

Curtis Cooper | photo by Abigail Townsend Photography | courtesy of the artist

Philly scene favorite Curtis Cooper just announced that their next record, Graceful, will be released next month, and its lead single is the equivalent of a big, long sigh of relief. With “Breathe Out,” the songwriter explores the causes of everyday anxieties that are bringing them down. Cooper’s vocals sound resigned against the song’s jangly melody, but their tone brightens as the song progresses, reminding us to “Leave some time to breathe on out / Breathe it out.” Continue reading →

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PREMIERE: Curtis Cooper’s Messy is a visceral work of compelling catharsis

Curtis Cooper | photo by Abigail Townsend Photography | courtesy of the artist

“I feel like all my closest friends are damaged,” says Philly’s Curtis Cooper. “And I don’t mean damaged in a bad way. I mean they have been beat down in one way or another and they’ve come back, and now they know the difference between having a good life and having a bad life, and they really appreciate what’s going on in their lives now. Those are the kind of people I want to spend time with.”

We’re talking one evening last week over falafel at Mama’s Vegetarian in Center City; “I love coming here,” Cooper comments, “there’s always somebody behind the counter wearing a Clique shirt.” And indeed, we’re handed our pita sandwiches from somebody wearing a jet black LIZARED tee. We grab a table and proceed to discussing Cooper’s personal and creative journey – through drugs, depression, and breakdowns – to their new album Messy, released this week. Continue reading →

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Curtis Cooper colorfully copes with somber themes in the “Percs of Life” video

Curtis Cooper | photo by Bob Sweeney | via Cereal and Sounds

Curtis Cooper has made their way around the Philly DIY scene over the past couple years, and  recently shared news of a forthcoming second album, the follow-up to last year’s debut Laughing In Lane. We don’t have a release date for the LP, but we do have a new video for the lead single “Percs of Life,” a song we first heard when Cooper played it during their Key Studio Session last year. Continue reading →

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Skate Jawn benefit comp feat. live recordings from Curtis Cooper, AllegrA, and Doggo

Curtis Cooper | photo by Rachel Del Sordo for WXPN
Curtis Cooper | photo by Rachel Del Sordo for WXPN

Over the summer, West Philly’s Grays Ferry Skatepark was once again transformed into the DIY tune-fest: the Skate JawnWhile raising money for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, the jawn boasted a rad local lineup including Abi Reimold, Stippling, Doggo, AllegrACurtis Cooper, and Coping Skills.

Now, with the help of the new local non-profit media collective, Dissenter Works, the gig’s philanthropic good-naturedness is being resurrected by ways of a benefit compilation of a few live recordings from the night. Continue reading →

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Tonight’s Concert Picks: SZA at The Fillmore, The Dove and The Wolf at Parks on Tap, Curtis Cooper at Little Italy PHL and more

SZA | photo by Cameron Pollack for WXPN
SZA | photo by Cameron Pollack for WXPN

After a few years of mixtapes, guest spots and EPs, singer and songwriter SZA made her full-length label debut this year with CTRL, and it is glorious. Beginning with an R&B base, she layers on elements of downbeat electronic music, atmospheric rap and rock for a wholly unique and captivating listening experience. Check out the video for “Love Galore” below and get tickets and information on SZA’s show tonight at The Fillmore Philadelphia at the XPN Concert Calendar.
Continue reading →

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Curtis Cooper covers Willie Nelson, Witch H(c)unt covers The Moldy Peaches for new West Philly-centric comp

Curtis Cooper | photo by Rachel Del Sordo for WXPN
Curtis Cooper | photo by Rachel Del Sordo for WXPN

In my regular digging around on Bandcamp last week, I came across a terrific collection of cover songs that seems like it was released apropos of nothing. Which, sometimes, is the best way to release music.

Recorded by local musician Georgey V over the winter on a Fostex 160 multitracker, COOL PHILLY BANDS RECORD COOL SONGS pretty much delivers what its title promises, hovering in the vicinity of the West Philadelphia basement show scene. Of note is Doriana Thornton’s Witch H(c)unt project covering one of my favorites from The Moldy Peaches, “Lucky Number Nine.” Curtis Cooper brings jazzy strums and a lo-fi crackle to their version of Willie Nelson’s “Crazy” (popularized by the great Patsy Cline, of course). And Georgey V pops up in the mix as well to close the set with the Dr. Dog deep cut “Adeline.” Continue reading →

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The Key Studio Sessions: Curtis Cooper

Philadelphia’s Curtis Cooper laughs when asked about his the next shows he’s playing in town. He quickly rattles off some playful names of places that sound semi-familiar — All Night Diner, Overlook Hotel — then clarifies: “they’re all basements. All house shows.”

It’s true: Cooper has hit the DIY scene hard lately, particularly since the March release of his debut LP Laughing In Line. And it suits him well, between his explosive energy as a performer, his fuzzed-out guitar tones and his skateboarder’s demeanor, mellowed out and amped up all at the same time.

He’s a punk rock dude at heart, make no mistake. But there’s more to him than punk. His songwriting betrays a fondness for The Beatles and their descendants (Elliott Smith in particular) and if you see him with an acoustic guitar and no other accompaniment (check his Random Tea Session), he’s directly in singer-songwriter / busker / Avett Brothers territory. Continue reading →