Album of the Week: Mondo Cozmo – This is For The Barbarians

Posted by Greg on Apr 12, 2022 in Music |

How does one accurately describe American singer/songwriter Josh Ostrander who performs under the moniker Mondo Cozmo? Profane? Shapeshifting? Brash? Self-absorbed? What about effective, absorbing and utterly engaging. There’s a dichotomy at work with Mondo Cozmo that keeps one wanting more every time. Just listen, you’ll see.

Ostrander’s journey started with the alt-rock band Laguardia which had its run from 2000-2005 and was signed to Universal and Republic Records. Their career was met with tepid success and after their demise he fronted Eastern Conference Champions which had a 10 year run that saw milder success and a record deal with Geffen Records. A native of Philly, Cozmo has called Los Angeles home for more than decade. Mondo Cozmo was a rebrand and one that Ostrander has worn quite well. It has a SoCal confidence and a swagger that makes you stand straight and pay attention. Yeah, it’s like that.

The discography started with the 2017 album Plastic Soul, continued with the 2018 EP Your Mother$#^!*% and then 2020’s New Medicine. Since Plastic Soul he has played Lollapalooza, Bonnaroo and received acclaim from Entertainment Weekly and Consequence of Sound. He’s also shared the stages with Bastille and Muse. Dan Reynolds of Imagine Dragons, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club and actresses Anna Faris and Paz de La Huerta consider Ostrander a close friend. All of his albums have been great and he’s stayed under the radar for far too long. His latest album This Is For the Barbarians, which dropped last Friday, is arguably his best to date and seems to be the album that will carry Cozmo into earbuds the world over.

The album begins with “Electrify My Love”, a confident, polished and bursting slice of sun-splashed alt-rock that demands attention. Opening with verses reminiscent of Bob Dylan “Electrify” quickly explodes into something that revisits Brit pop circa late 1990s. That it also works as a 2022 banger is only more points towards his cause. “Feel Good” mines the sonic terrain of Silk Sonic and is a funk sendup that just slays from the very first seconds. Cozmo has always been one to encourage movement and “Feel Good” is no exception. It may be just Monday but this could be the best thing we hear all week.

He returns to the Dylan-esque verses and the titanic wall of sound on “Meant for Livin” a cornucopia of pop that is utterly entrancing. The Dylanesque verses return on “WW3″ a meandering meditation about the craziness of life in 2022. On the contrary “I Wanna Live Like Everybody” is reflective, plaintive and inward as Cozmo sings over a rippling bed of synths and bleeps. As expected there’s a bursting wall of sound chorus and it absolutely sizzles from the start. The first half of This is For the Barbarians closes with “Eyes of Love”, the longest song of the album and a gorgeous, timeless splash of effervensce that revisits Cozmo’s Dylan-esque verses, placid piano and a rollicking chorus that will have you dancing in your chair.

The second half, the Side B, if you will, begins with “Hang On”, a languid and dusty folk send-up that features prose-like wordplay and a gloriously rousing finish. While much of this review has compared him to Dylan (and trust me it’s an appropriate comparison) a better more current one might be the likes of Dan Bern. The only difference is Dan never rocked this hard. “Hang On” is titanic from start to finish and another high water mark from an album that this far in has yet to disappoint. In fact this might just be the best album we’ve heard
this year.

“Marianne” begins with a simple acoustic strum and a Leonard Cohen-esque opening verse. There’s harmonica and a freewheeling organ but at first is sedate, simple and straightforward. Over the course of three minutes it blooms into something far more rousing, celebratory and well, damn amazing. “Good Mornin’ America” revisits the Dan Bern / Bob Dylan verse setup before quickly diving into a jubilant, hip-shaking good time. For much
of the album Ostrander has paired piercing social commentary with buoyant choruses and that trend continues here. The more, the better, no?

Penultimate offering “Full Moon Broken World” is one of the album’s few quiet moments. A celestial slice of ethereal instrumental music that borrows from his time spent working on projects for the likes of Brendan O’Brien and Brad Wood. The song really serves as an introduction to the somber closer “Lord”, a weary prayer that limps along with desperation before yielding to yet another hip-shaking, hootenanny good time.

The dichotomy of verbose and sometimes biting lyrics with rousing, joyous choruses is what makes This is For the Barbarians not only refreshing but important. As we try and understand the chaos of the world around us an album like This is For the Barbarians is a balm, a salve, a tonic for a weary world.

In the end, that’s about all we could ask for.

EDITOR’S NOTE: For now this is the album of the week but it will arguably be the album of the month and will definitely be in our year end contention for AOTY. This is a titanic work from an artist, who at 43, is just now hitting on all cylinders and making music he was destined to make. Cannot recommend this enough. He is on tour with The Airborne Toxic Event through the rest of the month.

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