Review: Katie Ellen – ‘Cowgirl Blues’
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As Chumped was taking the Brooklyn DIY scene by storm in 2015, the pop-punk outfit seemed to be on the precipice of big things—which made it all the more surprising when the band dissolved in the fall of 2015, announcing an indefinite hiatus.
Chumped’s talents didn’t lay dormant for long. Singer Anika Pyle teamed up with drummer Dan Frelly and the duo began releasing singles under the Katie Ellen moniker. Those songs and more comprise Cowgirl Blues, the debut LP from the Philadelphia-based outfit.
Pyle uses the record to head back to the “drawing room”—literally and figuratively, as the first track suggests—and gets to the root of her own truth. This is so much more than a breakup album.
Throughout the 28-minute runtime, Pyle’s emotional range shines. She is fiercely adamant about the things she wants. “I don’t believe in getting married/I am keeping my own room,” she matter-of-factly sings on “Lucy Stone.” She’s deliriously affectionate on “Wild Heart,” from her lyrics (“I like to keep things that remind me of you”) to the soft “oohs” floating in the background to the song’s bubbly, swaying rhythm.
It’s easy to get lost in the shimmering guitars that lay the foundation for “Sad Girls Club,” but take a closer listen. There’s a story there, one about being misunderstood, one about putting on a brave face: “You have ‘known for quite a while that I am not so well’/Sad girls don’t make good wives.” Pyle croons the passionate refrain with conviction.
“It’s OK to have emotions,” Pyle told the crowd before she played the song at First Unitarian Church when she opened for Jeff Rosenstock in November. “It’s OK to be soft.”
She celebrates vulnerability by singing candidly about missing ex-lovers and friends. She also sings about sex and it’s almost uncomfortable to hear her sing, “I’m sick of fucking in our bed,” over and over with nothing but the gentle strumming of her acoustic guitar to distract from the words.
On other songs, Katie Ellen deploys fuzzy lo-fi undertones and mid-tempo indie-rock instrumentals. Pyle’s clarion voice rounds out every track.
The singer/songwriter summarizes the themes of the album via a heartfelt message to listeners on the Katie Ellen Bandcamp page: “today is the first day of the rest of my life. I will be deliberate and unafraid, discerning and kind. I will not live under the umbrella of shame. I will not accept responsibility for your feelings or your bullshit. I will say no and be taken seriously. I will not let anyone make me feel small. I will be gracious and ask for what I need. I will never apologize for being an emotional creature. I will be proud when my thighs touch, when my belly is soft. I will love who I want to, identify as I want to, be as loud or as quiet as I want to. I will be whole. I will live my truth, in kindness, in gratitude, in compassion and strength as a free, forward-thinking cowgirl, riding with purpose, tall in my stride, living like the wind in the depths of the desert. and I will sing the blues as I damn well please.”
I couldn’t have said it better myself.