[T]here can be preconceived notions of an album based on how it gets to us. Who recommends it to us. Who asks us to listen to it as a favor. Who gives it to us as a gift. Having those notions blown by the wayside can be a pleasant surprise or a surprise letdown. When those notions are blown completely out of the stratosphere...well that's another thing altogether. You Me & Apollo is the musical moniker of Brent Cowles - a pastor's kid. When his How To Swim, How To Rot EP was passed on to me for one reason or another, I didn't expect anything really. That is a lie. I expected very specific things: songs attempting to be uplifting but coming off as forced, just-listenable to mediocre recording quality, a collection of music that will either encourage a dream further or encourage the writer to move on with life. What I got was the precise opposite: songs with little to nothing uplifting about them that seemed to wrap their tentacles around your heart and squeeze, recording quality and technicality just lo-fi enough to be intriguing but with enough obvious skill present to keep you listening, a collection of music that suprised me, tied my stomach in knots, and delivered enough promise to make me a fan. On Cards With Cheats doo-wop, soul, and alt-country lament all go hand in hand. It's a refinement of the raw emotion from How To Swim into cohesive, pointed songwriting with creatively tight arrangements that don't wander but prove a point. It struts in its angst. It is Johnny Cash giving the photographer at Folsom Prison the finger. What songs like "Coming Home In A Coffin", "Ink On Paper", and "The Learned Thief" lack in hope they deliver full force in honesty. The hauntingly jangly "The Devil Inside" brings you to a place of precise chaos that is all too familiar to most of us. "Oh, Brother" is the tender spot on the album. Cowles reaches out to the subject with, "Now show me the way you smile. I ain't never seen nothin' so great. Now show me the way you love Jesus. Cause heaven knows we ain't spoke" before taking an almost protective stance with, "You ain't gonna' follow me now. No I ain't gonna' let you...keep your eyes on what you're doin', don't you look at me. Keep your head on straight and I'll keep out." Cards With Cheats is a rock & soul record that delivers heaviness on a plate with presentation that makes you want it. The delivery of honesty and near-torment without a forced smile makes it beautiful poetry. It is lament. [Cards With Cheats can be listened to in its entirety and purchased at youmeandapollo.bandcamp.com]
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