Discouragement is something that has unfortunately had a regular presence in James Cooley’s musical career. Cooley – the one man behind the Mesita moniker – has spent a good portion of his musical career trying to attain a particular sound and goal: in 2009 he started out trying to record and release his second album, but it wasn’t until two years and two EPs later that the final product came about. The sprightly No Worries and the still effervescent and brilliant Living/Breathing were attempts to wipe the slate clean, to start over and refocus on the task at hand. (Here’s To Nowhere finally got it’s long awaited release in 2011, and far from disappointed.) Come Cooley’s third album, The Coyote, he was streamlining his work process – a process which has carried forward into 2013 when he was preparing his fourth album, Future Proof. But when it looked like we might be treated to a second Mesita album with the space of a year, discouragement reared its ugly head again.
After once again starting over with the release of the XYXY EP earlier this year, Cooley soon found himself back on track. Months later his fully-fledged new sound of twinkling pianos, electronic beats, and near-desperate streaks of humanity came into life; Future Proof indeed proved to be immune to the trails ahead of its initial inspiration.
Although Future Proof should be praised for the devoted effort put into it, any merits from listeners will come from whether or not you’ve been keeping track of Cooley over the years. New listeners will find it hard to not to be fixated by the juxtaposition of the forward march of opening track “No Future” as Cooley sings blankly that “There is no future left for me.” That or they may well be dazzled by the seven-minute “Creature” which sparkles with a loop that has it sounding like organic machinery. Or there’s “XYXY” and “Hostages,” which return from the XYXY EP and act an essential centrepiece duo, capturing some of the most affecting sentiments in the utterance of a phrase which sounds like it came about from an everyday conversation: “You are not the thing i’ve been dreaming of.” For the most part, Future Proof manages to hit on an exact art of being nothing less than interesting on a musical level, and truly heartbreaking on a lyrical plane.
Those familiar with Mesita’s output will know most of these songs already (Cooley released most of the tracks upon their original completion), and only three tracks are entirely new: “Damage” flickers away with acoustic and electric stabs into the dark before sounding ten times heavier once a electrified horn blast submerges the song; aforementioned “No Future” appropriately bridges the gap between Future Proof and last year’s The Coyote, beginning with a shuffle of what sound like live drums before pushing forward with a guitar that sounds like it’s trying it best not to move out of line; and closing track “Nothing” is a final statement about once again letting the ties of the past unwind and unknot themselves before finishing on a weightless few piano notes. “No Future” and “Damage” prove that Cooley is more than capable of playing the long game, and here, injected between material many will likely have become familiar with, they are aces he’s kept up his sleeve until the final reveal.
“Nothing” doesn’t have any real failings, but it suffers from becoming lost to the background after the heavy, tiring couplet of “Vigilant” and “Distance.” These two tracks (“Distance” in particular) repeat an explorative edge that Cooley does well (both on Future Proof and on previous releases), and while “Vigilant” has the fiery bursts of electric guitar to reignite any waning interest, the last minute of the “Distance” can feel like something of superfluous slog to get through. That said, elsewhere the exploration is captivating, if not key to the song and album structure. On the latter half of “XYXY,” Cooley deconstructs the Radiohead-esque piano chords like he’s trying deconstruct the rejection he faced in the lyrics while on “Creature” he melts into the lazy drones as the track slows to a stop.
This navigation through sounds and textures goes hand in hand with the new sound Cooley is sporting here. On Future Proof, gone (for the most part) are the live drums and numerous guitar tracks, and in their place are electronic beats, piano keys, and pressing static bursts of energetic noise. It isn’t a simple case of Kid A syndrome kicking in, though; Cooley has often had these kinds of features in his music, but by packing up and moving to Chicago to literally start anew somewhere else, his live palette became limited. This considered, it’s amazing how widescreen Future Proof sounds; if there was ever a HD Mesita album, this would definitely be it. Cooley might sound lonesome with his lyrics, but it’s like he’s found a new world in which to exist.
It would seem that reinvention is what has had a greater presence in Cooley’s musical life. Here, it can be put down to a focusing on the electronic side of things, which draws new landscapes for both the artist and the listener to explore. Or if you take a track like “Forward,” you can see how he’s taking the same construct of Here’s To Nowhere highlight “Friend of the Horizon” and reimagining it a new context. Getting here might have involved more restarts than Cooley perhaps would have liked, but the end results speak for themselves. Cooley once spoke about how he was told by a teacher that he’d never make a musician of any sort – perhaps his first real dose of discouragement – but he managed to work well past those words. Similarly, in 2013, he’s facing up the realisation that something isn’t quite fitting and refocusing until it does. Future Proof is another piece of evidence attesting that though strenuous for Cooley, the process works.