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For a good decade now, The Cosmic Carnival has been a fixture in The Netherlands, steadily building up a formidable live reputation. After two full-lengths and a live double LP, the Rotterdam-based collective has yet to bend toward full-blown nostalgia. That said, the sonic reference points The Cosmic Carnival claim are predominantly sounds from the past: artists like The Grateful Dead, The Band and Jefferson Airplane – but also Bob Marley, CCR and Springsteen – are constant beacons of inspiration.

The Cosmic Carnival knack for reinvention always makes their music sound fresh and contemporary. Country, soul-scorching soul, 70s rock nuggets, reggae and psychedelic pop are part of the same distinct vernacular. If there’s one thing not constantly in flux, it’s The Cosmic Carnival’s unparalleled fervor to perform, as well as their inquisitive spirit and sheer work ethic. The band has upped the ante in 2017 with new LP First Flowers, ready to blossom from fertile creative soil once more.

In times of crisis – both personally and socially – the heat of the moment tends to obscure any silver linings. First Flowers is an album brimmed with these silver linings. Albeit without the biting irony; there’s still a zealous, contagious sense of optimism prevalent in these songs. With the title track, First Flowers ends with a comforting hopeful note "Don’t you know the first flowers bloom/before the last winter’s day".

Singer, songwriter and producer Nicolas Schuit knows a thing or two about silver linings. After catching a huge ocean wave whilst swimming in Spain, the resulting back injury terminated Schuit’s athletic ambitions. In music, he regained his drive and individuality: by trial and error he explored and conquered his doubts and limitations, long before achieving nationwide success with The Cosmic Carnival in 2009.

After a decade of fine-tuning their craft and performing shows across the globe, the Cosmic Carnival have confidently found their own forte, and with all that, put everything into perspective. In the end, their collective love for the band – that self-motivated desire to leave no stone unturned once that stage belongs to them – holds more weight than fleeting accolades or blog buzz. "Each start has its stop/Ours is to wonder and try/Theirs is just to do and to die", Schuit professes on ‘Lotus’, a song originally intended as an instrumental track.

First Flowers is without question The Cosmic Carnival’s most confident entry yet. The circumstances proved utmost fruitful: for the first time, the band wrote and recorded an album at home studio Keilewerf, an expansive industrial workplace at Rotterdam’s periphery. With no logistical pressures and tight schedule, The Cosmic Carnival had plenty of time to properly flesh out the songs and arrangements. First single ‘I Do’ is immediate and downright majestic, capturing a band eager to flex their muscles again – even if it’s just to prove there is no manual for that creative spark.

The Cosmic Carnival’s ability to lift familiar tropes to cosmic new heights – not to mention exploring interesting contextual relationships – shines brighter than ever. The band got permission from Chicago-based visual artist Dennis Wojtkiewicz to use his work for the First Flowers-cover art. Wojtkiewicz’s hyperrealistic paintings reveal intrinsic patterns and familiar shapes in flowers and pieces of fruit. They reveal a sense of wonder and beauty inside an otherwise commonplace object. It’s that aesthetic The Cosmic Carnival strives for: the grounded sounds of folk and country alternate with Jovian soul spirituals (‘You’), futuristic latin/jazz (‘Burning Wire’) and sunlit 70s boogie and funk (‘Lost & Found’)

The latter – the opening cut of First Flowers – is probably the closest The Cosmic Carnival has gotten to a true club banger. In reality, it’s a passionate plea for more engagement in the music industry. “Where is that old school menace?", the song asks. "It's the dark side of having no doubt."

Even at the height of their powers, The Cosmic Carnival have no qualms acknowledging their own sense of doubt, especially after various line-up changes. Eventually, the dark clouds will come to murk things up, but the way you weather that storm will ultimately define you. As Alan Watts said once:"The sound of the rain needs no translation".

With First Flowers The Cosmic Carnival – fearlessly – put their guts and resolve on display.

The Cosmic Carnival
© The Cosmic Carnival 2024 Art: Dennis Wojtciwicz