English Oceans

The ringer on this stripped-down rock set is guitarist Mike Cooley. Instead of his standard two to four tunes per album, Cooley wrote six out of 13 here – and batted 1.000, moving successfully from bashed-out pop ("Shit Shots Count") to bar-Byrds heartbreakers ("Primer Coat") and honky-tonk piano blues ("Natural Light") that can barely keep on its stool. Much respect, of course, to frontman Patterson Hood, who cranks out his usual smart set of rockers as consistent as Waffle House hash browns. Cooley's burst of creativity has only made Hood better: "Pauline Hawkins" soars, and album closer "Grand Canyon" might be the best, and simplest, ballad he's ever written.

From The Archives Issue 1204: March 13, 2014