The Cocker Spaniels are releasing a wonderful new album, The Cocker Spaniels Are Still Alive and So Are You. This is the (essentially solo) project of Sean Padilla, a well known booking agent who describes himself as “a 40-year-old Black dad who likes Prince and Guided by Voices a lot, so I try to make music that splits the difference.” Padilla sings and performs almost everything himself on the album (his partner and kids accompany on a few songs). The album is a 21 song opus that is a “meditation on grief, loss, birth, and life; a reflection of his growth as a person and a musician over the last decade; a souvenir of how he stayed sane through a pandemic and the upheaval it caused; an album that sounds like folk-rock, power-pop, funk, grunge, dub, goth, punk, shoegaze, R&B, or black metal depending on the song.” Musically this is a very apt description as the songs nimbly blend genres, bobbing and weaving from song to song, never staying on one feel for too long; Padilla’s sharp pop sensibilities are the thread that ties everything together.
Lyrically the subjects are wide ranging but all are delivered with a clever, razor sharp wit, many of which are just so spot on and funny. You can feel yourself rolling your eyes on his behalf when he’s bemoaning gabby gossipy family members in “Family Snitch,” and in the absolutely hilarious “Nobody Wants to Play Last,” any musician who plays in a DIY band will immediately relate and laugh til they cry. Still keeping in the same sarcastic vein, he also does not shy away from offering pointed and very necessary commentary on the pervasive issues that plague us as a society such as racism and police violence toward Black people in “Racism Priest,” “Snuff Film,” and “Cops Don’t Care About The Drip,” Deeply personal narratives make their way here too, such as navigating the feelings of intense pain from losing a pregnancy but the hope that comes with finding out he and his wife are expecting again in “Baby’s Going To Make It This Time.” And yes two songs are even told from the point of view of a cat, the priceless and hard rocking “Eternal Grudge,” and the groovy “A New Hello,” sweetly sung from the perspective of a cat in heaven missing its person.
A dextrous wordsmith no matter what the song, it is really when the songs turn political that Padilla’s strength as a lyricist is on full display. While all the songs have somewhat of a satiric bite and aren’t afraid to dish out the snark, when the songs do touch the territory of commentary on systemic harmful issues, he has the unique ability to deliver the facts with a sardonic bent while keeping things engaging, making sure you as the listener have everything in clear focus because too many of us have been looking away for far too long; he knows this and his lyrics also say- without having to explicitly say- cut the crap because you aren’t going to look away any longer. This is a rare skill that brings to mind other singer/lyricists who also have this gift like Shawna Potter of War On Women, or the master of punk sarcasm himself, Jello Biafra.
He minces no words when calling out the toxicity of white guilt in “Racism Priest,” which was the first single from the album (read our review) or in the funked out synth bop “Snuff Film,” that very directly addresses police violence towards Black people and the fact that white America needs to wake the hell up: “Do you really need a snuff film to believe this could happen to me? Does it really take a snuff film for the world to show a little empathy? It’s been happening every day for four centuries. The only thing that seems to change is technology.” In the bouncy “Cops Don’t Care About the Drip,” murderous and arrogant cops are again addressed and Padilla lists many high profile cases throughout the song, citing the fact that no matter how well dressed or educated the individuals were, or how many of them were doing absolutely nothing at the time of their killing, the officers involved still found bogus excuses and chose to act with despicable aggression and violence to target Black people merely for existing in the world or for- God forbid- working to make it a better place: “Medgar got killed in a suit, Malcolm got killed in a suit, Martin got killed in a suit, your swag won’t make you bullet proof. Cops don’t care about the drip, they’ll pull their guns out just as quick. Your skin will still be Black, your blood will still be red.” These songs may come in a poppy funky package, with sugary harmonies to emphasize the words, but in the end they are 100 times sharper in their rebukes against racism as any political punk or hardcore record with a lead singer barking manifestos at the audience.
While there are so many strong songs on this collection, Padilla also takes the time to get tender and shows his love for his family, in the process really hitting the highest emotional notes of the album. Songs like “No Steps or Halves,” the hard rock into reggae fueled jam in which he describes meeting his oldest son for the first time, strike at the heart strings in a major way. He croons “You made a father out of me,” and I seriously got goosebumps, the love is so palpable, just radiating out of the song in waves. “Little Kid With a Big Brain,” is a piano heavy jam for his middle son, describing a bright and bubbly kid who loves to share everything that comes to mind which can be tiring for an adult, but delightful at the same time, Padilla singing “I know I want some peace and quiet but not right now, not this time” right before the song blows up into a hard rocking finale. “Rainbow Baby #2,” is for his youngest child, an adorable acoustic guitar number that concludes the album, complete with a wonderfully sweet cameo from baby Micah himself.
When I was sent this album for review, the name looked very familiar but I couldn’t place it at first. But after a listen, I remembered that I had actually discovered The Cocker Spaniels years ago in the blogosphere and had downloaded some tracks around 2004 or 2005ish, notably the brilliant “The Only Black Guy at the Indie Rock Show.” Those earlier songs really lay the ground work of where Padilla is at now and show off his many strengths both as a lyricist and songwriter. I admit I didn’t keep up with what he was doing after I found those songs all those years ago, but I was thoroughly delighted to connect those dots and get to listen to this album which is undeniably one of my favorites of 2021; I really look forward to seeing what Padilla creates next. He recently addressed the subject of new music on his Instagram saying “Despite what the long gaps between my albums may suggest, I’m always writing new songs; l just have to get better at carving out time to record them. I don’t wanna go a decade without releasing new music ever again. I look forward to sharing more of it with you as soon as possible.” I really don’t want him to go that long without releasing new music either!
The Cocker Spaniels Are Still Alive and So Are You is out on 8/13/21 on Evil Island Fortress.
The previous three Cocker Spaniels releases are also available for download on Bandcamp.