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 →