Summer Soundtracks: Cobra Starship – ¡Viva la Cobra!

I’ve often said that autumn is my favorite season for music, with so many albums in my collection deeply associated with zip-up hoodies, campfire crackles, crunching leaves, and cigarette smoke inside gritty venues. Even so, every single summer, I find myself drawn to the albums that have defined the warmest of seasons in my life. Thus, I decided it was worth my time to start a series that highlights my favorite soundtracks to summer.

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Like most people, I first heard Cobra Starship while inside a movie theater. Also like most, I assumed that the “Snakes on a Plane” post-credits music video for “Bring It” was a one-off joke track featuring a stacked lineup of scene stars. By the time While the City Sleeps, We Rule the Streets dropped later in 2006, I remember a flicker of curiosity, but my prevailing reaction was one of indifference.

You can buy ¡Viva la Cobra! on Apple Music.

With that in mind, it’s hard for me to remember how I came to fall in love with ¡Viva la Cobra!, the first full band release from Cobra Starship. To my memory, there wasn’t a standout track that pulled me in. Nevertheless, the album ruled the summer of 2008, rarely leaving my car’s CD player. The highlight of that summer came while standing near the front of the main stage at the Vans Warped Tour as Gabe Saporta strutted back and forth and Elisa Schwartz rocked out on keytar.

I vividly remember smiling wide and singing along with those around me before losing my mind when William Beckett came on stage to perform “Bring It” with the group that day in Cincinnati. I remember buying a purple, hot pink, and neon green Cobra Starship shirt at Hot Topic and wearing it at least once a week throughout the summer. I remember driving around Louisville at dusk, playing tracks like “Angie” and “Kiss My Sass” on repeat.

Oftentimes, these nostalgic memories are shared en masse as songs of summer impact millions of music listeners, creating a collective moment. However, ¡Viva la Cobra! was far from a smash, as Saporta would experience a greater fame with hit singles on later albums. To be honest, none of my friends listened to Cobra Starship in 2008, making this random sophomore effort all the more personal.

The album itself is sultry and danceable, but is a tongue-in-cheek end-of-the-world “party” built atop somewhat satirical electro pop songs pumped full of scene cred. It’s the kind of album only a select group of listeners could truly “get,” making it even more niche and peculiar. Saporta wouldn’t lean fully into cranked up club pop until Hot Mess and Night Shades, realizing the opportunity that this groundwork had provided him. At least for 2008, Saporta was still winking at the camera with the same smirk he flashed before the screen went black during “Snakes on a Plane”.

During a time when a younger version of myself was enraptured with metalcore, regularly blasting the likes of Underoath and The Devil Wears Prada, ¡Viva la Cobra! was a reprieve from the breakdowns and raging guitars. How can you not roll down the windows and belt the chorus to “Smile for the Paparazzi” or bounce to the beat of “My Moves are White (White Hot, That Is)”? ¡Viva la Cobra! is a crash landing of pop bliss and emo influence that still stands as an oddly satisfying experience.

My interest in Cobra Starship was fleeting – I never owned another album before the group disbanded, and I return only to ¡Viva la Cobra! when the temperatures rise and I’m in the mood to move. It reminds me of a time when I was willing to privately expand my musical palate and begin to explore my love of pop music, even if I was still holding some resistance. Most of all, it reminds me carefree summer nights – the ones I still chase even as they become rarer and rarer.

by Kiel Hauck

kiel_hauckKiel Hauck is the editor in chief at It’s All Dead. Over the past decade, he has been a contributor for multiple online and print publications and was most recently an editor at PopMatters. Kiel currently resides in Indianapolis, IN with his wife and their imaginary pet, Hand Dog. You can follow him on Twitter.

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Review: PVRIS – All We Know of Heaven, All We Need of Hell

“Two years gone / Came back as some bones and so cynical”

The opening lines of “What’s Wrong”, an early single from PVRIS’ sophomore album All We Know of Heaven, All We Need of Hell, provide a quick and distressing synopsis. By all accounts, this album should mark a joyous occasion for the fast-rising electropop trio, but vocalist Lynn Gunn shies away from celebration, choosing to bare her broken heart instead.

That heavy honesty, coupled with the band’s refined execution, has resulted in something that somehow manages to surpass the immense hype that preceded it.

You can buy All We Know of Heaven, All We Need of Hell on iTunes.

PVRIS took the scene by storm in 2014 with the release of White Noise – an absurdly fantastic debut that set the bar high for such a young band. From the moment those songs went on the road and the trio’s fan base ballooned, it was clear that PVRIS were never ours to keep. This was music that deserved to be heard on the biggest of stages.

I don’t know if All We Know of Heaven, All We Need of Hell is the album that will take them there, but it succeeds in nearly every way as an improved version of PVRIS. Surprisingly, All We Know doesn’t stray completely from guitars, drums and rock influence, even as the songs themselves have appropriately evolved toward a more fully realized pop sound. It’s just good music, plain and simple.

That richly melodic background creates a haunting palate for Gunn to create contrast as she reflects on the pressure and confusion that comes with nearly immediate fame and exposure. During the second verse of “What’s Wrong”, she continues her descent, singing, “When did I get so pitiful? / Just a goddamn corpse in a centerfold / You got my back against the wall / Now I can’t ever get comfortable”. And later, she distressingly declares, “I don’t need a metaphor for you to know I’m miserable”.

Like many others in the revived genre, Gunn uses the jubilant glow of synthpop to explore dark themes, but the naïve ambiguity of White Noise fades away here. Instead, Gunn opts for a straightforward approach with some clever turns of phrase thrown in. On what could easily have become a late summer dance anthem, Gunn uses the billowing chorus of “Same Soul” to inject hollow regret into a famous Gotye line, belting, “I’m just a body that you used to know”.

Themes of shame, remorse and confusion permeate All We Know, spanning across a soundscape of synthesizers and drums that elevate tracks like “Heaven” and “Anyone Else”, building on the foundation laid during the band’s debut. Even so, aggressive elements remain – “No Mercy” is the heaviest song the band has written and closer “Nola 1” floats atop a slick guitar lick and deep, pulsing bass from Alex Babinski and Brian McDonald. It’s a delicate balancing act that never seems to tip the scales in one direction across the album’s 10 tracks.

On White Noise, Gunn was a firecracker, letting her vocals bubble over into a growl during the crescendo of nearly every track. On this sophomore release, she’s found her voice, usurping expected restraint with commanding vocals that make use of her range and power without spilling into yells or screams. During the chorus of “Winter”, Gunn harkens to old bangers like “Smoke” and “Fire” as she sings, “Can you burn a fire into my flesh / Cause your love’s so cold I see my breath” with a powerful and controlled delivery. It’s that kind of rapid progression and growth that makes the future of PVRIS increasingly exciting.

During the opening moments of “Half”, Gunn sings, “Some days I feel everything / Others are numbing / Can never find the in-between / It’s all or nothing”. Her personal battle speaks volumes about her character. Gunn is brave to share her struggle and wise to ponder the fleeting fulfillment of fame. As she does, PVRIS have come even closer to crossing the mainstream threshold. When their rise reaches its peak, which could very well be sooner than later, it would seem that they’ll be prepared.

4/5

by Kiel Hauck

kiel_hauckKiel Hauck is the editor in chief at It’s All Dead. Over the past decade, he has been a contributor for multiple online and print publications and was most recently an editor at PopMatters. Kiel currently resides in Indianapolis, IN with his wife and their imaginary pet, Hand Dog. You can follow him on Twitter.