Cuchulain’s FEAT is Timely and Timeless

A man with circular glasses, a light brown collared shirt, and a faded green cap stares away from the camera, his head turned to his right (the image is of the singer-songwriter Cuchulain)
Photo by Kendall Rock

Cuchulain is a singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist based in Eugene, Oregon who just released an album called FEAT. As the title suggests, each song is a collaboration featuring various musicians, singers, or bands. Stylistically, the songs are mostly a blend of folk and rock, but they also veer into bluesy, romantic, theatrical, and even jazzy territory. The production is, for the most part, fairly standard: electric and acoustic guitars, bass, and drums; but several songs feature intricate string arrangements, horn sections, and piano.

For me, the primary strength of this album lies in Cuchulain’s songwriting. As I listened to the album, I felt like I was exploring an as-yet-unpublished portion of the Great American Songbook. Cuchulain clearly cares about the lyrics and narrative drive of each song as much as he cares about its musical structure and production (Paul Simon came to mind more than once as I listened).

The album begins with the song “Good Morning Eugene,” which describes the aftermath of an uncontrollable wildfire. Cuchulain sings,

Must’ve been a fire, it smells like smoke

Somebody’s life burned down before I woke

To lose everything up in the flames

while the rest of the world

gets to stay the same

The lyrics touch on serious subject matter, but the tone is so relaxed that it does, in fact, feel like a good morning. Some of my other favorites were “Blue November,” “Maybe,” and “Wolf At The Door.”

“Blue November” depicts a night of loneliness and nostalgia tinged with sadness. The verse melodies are gorgeous, almost jazzy; Cuchulain’s voice evokes memories of cold fall days and the image of a lonely blue heart. In the latter half of the song, we enter the realm of heartbreak; it’s like a dark storm raining into a choppy black sea. The expansive musical terrain suddenly collapses as if careening into a wall; the emotion subsides, the remembering ends, and we are quietly returned to the present. In addition to being emotionally moving, “Blue November” is an incredibly varied and vast listening experience.

“Maybe” is sultry and elusive; it sways and twirls like a crowd of waltzing spirits. It also accomplishes quite a bit in only 2 minutes and 5 seconds. The haunting verses are passed between Cuchulain and Joe Kye, followed by a brief bridge, and a killer guitar solo. The descending chord progression returns, and throughout it all a string section teases and taunts the listener. The musical arrangement is thoughtful, complex, and well-articulated, especially for such a short song. And it ends quickly, dividing itself and dispersing like a puff of smoke.

“Wolf At The Door”

As I listened to FEAT, I returned to this song again and again. It begins in a pained moment of introspection that eventually bursts into rock ‘n roll.

The song tells the story of a man plagued by a wolf. The wolf can really be anything, but in this story, it is the bottomless, relentless, insatiable hunger of rock ‘n roll. The wolf is sometimes psychologically interpreted as the part of us that “wolfs” things down indiscriminately and unthinkingly, like mindless hunger run amuck. In this song, the wolf of rock n’ roll threatens to consume the singer. To me, the instinctual energy personified by the howling wolf wants to take over the mind and body; it’s more akin to a state of possession than artistic expression, which is what makes it scary, even dangerous.

Later, when Cuchulain sings, “Freedom art and music, God knows they don’t pay the bills,” rationality has returned, perhaps compensating for the frenetic wolf energy. The rational voice says, “I can’t let the wolf completely take over; I have bills to pay and a life to sustain.” But the wolf simply laughs and says, “As if you had a choice in the matter.” To me, this push-pull between the lucidity of consciousness and the unhinged power of the rock n’ roll wolf exemplifies the conflict present in every deeply creative person. We want to play and make music and ignore the world, but the unceasing demands of reality never really go away, and we have to find a way to traverse the path between these two (at times) disparate worlds. Whatever happens, we have to find a container for this relentless, howling hunger, lest it take over our souls and devour us whole.

The music video is particularly striking. The mask reminds me of the wolf mask from the terrifying film, Creep, however, this video is not so grim, it’s also wild and silly. It has a darker tone, but never takes itself too seriously, which is something constant throughout FEAT; there is always humor, even in the darker moments.

Timely and Timeless

Cuchulain’s FEAT is an impressive album. It’s filled with sunny, somber, punchy, and funny moments. The songs are also deeply relevant to our present circumstances, but they manage to speak to current events without being heavy handed; they are at once timely and timeless, which, in my opinion, makes them great folk songs. They could easily be played and sung and reinterpreted by other musicians, which leads me to believe they will outgrow the confines of the album.

This album is a lovely example of a songwriter utilizing all their creative resources—musical equipment, instruments, and of course, musical friends—to make sense of the nonsensical instability of contemporary American life. There is a lightness and warmth that permeates this album; to me, FEAT feels like a house where somebody is always home; it might get dark outside, but it’s always lit from within.

Follow Cuchulain, purchase FEAT is on Bandcamp and stream it on Spotify.

Written by Daniel Siuba

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