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Minnesota Music Review: Cyr and the Cosmonauts

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Cyr and the Cosmonauts
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Cyr and the Cosmonauts

Cyr and the Cosmonauts released their latest album in May but as a mask-marred 2021 turns cold and dark and neighborhood yards are filled with Halloween ghosts, now seems like the time to spin Songs to Sing Before We’re Dead.

Fronted by brother and sister duo, Eric and Rachel Cyr, the Duluth-based four-piece band has followed up its 2018 debut Callused with a deeper, more adventurous record that highlights steely songwriting, haunting Americana instrumentation, and wonderfully mysterious sibling harmonies.

First off, Songs to Sing Before We’re Dead is not a record filled with gloom and doom. The material pops with life and dances across the graveyard. These are songs to sing because we’re alive. Eric Cyr-penned titles like “Cemetery Stone,” “Morose Joy,” and “Ideology/Casualty” may sound grim on the surface but each holds a nugget of hope or life lesson. That’s good songwriting.

“Bones,” the opening track and lead single, sets the tone. Inspired by an Old Testament tale, the song rumbles and clatters like a souped-up hearse with Hank Williams behind the wheel. A rollicking organ solo leads the way. The Cyr siblings plead for divine redemption in an off-kilter harmony: “When our hope is lost, gone, cutoff, dead as stones. Can you split the grave and raise the dry, dry bones.”

Another single, “Greyhound Bus,” is a slow-burning guitar/piano ballad. While Eric Cyr carries lead vocals throughout the record, Rachel gets a verse on this one - which helps tie the song together and deliver its message of enduring love during hard times. “We ain’t coming back again until we both remember when our love was all we knew we’d ever need,” they sing.

Make no mistake - the vocal work between Eric and Rachel is what drives the record and makes it standout from other rootsy, songwriter-driven releases. Their sibling harmony isn’t as air-tight as First Aid Kit or a soul blend like Seth and Scott Avett. It’s somewhere in between. Eric and Rachel Cyr are different because their sound is a brother-sister sound. It’s hard to draw a comparison. There are no great brother-sister harmony acts in modern music. Donny and Marie? Here’s hoping Cyr and the Cosmonauts explore this sonic connection further and create bigger and bigger audiences.

The chorus of “Drinking to Drink” offers another example of this brother-sister blend. Pleading for god to help with an alcohol-fueled life, Rachel twists her backing harmonies around Eric’s lead. It’s great stuff. Not as raw and direct as Shovels & Rope, not as sweet as Gram and EmmyLou, but the song delivers something special. It’s the sound of siblings.

Songs to Sing Before We’re Dead ventures off into bossanova, sea chanty and lullabies. The group mixes horns and strings into a few songs and injects drum soloing into the otherwise peaceful hymn “Angel Band.” The exploration doesn’t all work but it makes the record exciting and delivers a sense of discovery in each track.

Like trick or treating, Songs to Sing Before We’re Dead offers something different at each door but at the end of the night everything in the bag is candy. And while too much candy might lead to an early grave, who cares? We’re not dead and it sure feels good to be alive.

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