Compact Disc (CD), Cassette
A cocktail of campy posturing and plain ol’ gloominess, the “sad cowboy” aesthetic seems machine-tooled for internet popularity. In addition to the viral mash-up of a sad face emoji wearing a cowboy hat (that should be considered with the immortal accompanying tweet “they only say yee haw, they never ask haw yee”), the Tik-Tok hashtag “sadcowboy” has over 27 million views. Artists such as Orville Peck, Goat Girl, and Lil Nas X have tinkered with the idea before, but Cowboy Sadness—a project from The Antlers’s Peter Silberman, David Moore of Bing & Ruth, and Nicholas Principe of Port St. Willow—approach things abstractly. Their debut album Selected Jambient Works Vol. 1 might not feature songs about whisky ‘n’ bars ‘n’ feelin’ low, but it does evoke winds whipping over lonely plains, scratchy 45s booming out of shotgun shacks, and the vertigo-induced melancholy of being at the center of a giant landscape. Move over, Midwestern emo: this is Southwestern ambient.
Despite being formed of rushing drones and wide-open soundscapes, Selected Jambient Works is not without bite. Amidst the billow and bluster, each slack guitar line or percussion shuffle is like a shack on a plain, livestock on a prairie, or a Stetson-adorned figure trailing towards the horizon. One arresting moment is when the busy drums in “First Rodeo” start to gallop. The aggression of “Range” builds like a magic trick, with buzzing drones that swell and recede like cars speeding along a highway. Everything here has a tactility, a grainy suppleness like lived-in denim and leather. Note the resonant plunks and clinks on “Agave,” those hard-edged drones on “Full Mammoth,” and the slack, low-slung instrumentation in “Ten Paces” and “The Cowboy Way.” A few of the tracks even recall Bon Iver, with their blown-out saturation and artful muddiness (minus a muscular falsetto hooting about getting high by the gas station).
In a post on The Antlers’s Substack that doubles as liner notes, Silberman writes that Selected Jambient Works “began as our regularly-occurring ambient-jam club in Brooklyn” where the trio would “improvise for hours on end, capturing everything on a simple handheld recorder.” Indeed, if you imagine William Basinski setting to work on some old Western tunes Alan Lomax and Shirley Collins dug up in the 1930s, then you’re halfway there. Much like the internet’s attempts to deconstruct the cowboy—that most constructed of figures—Selected Jambient Works Vol. 1 unpicks Delta blues, folk, and cosmic country until they lie in parts, then lets the result blow away with the winds.