It’s always something special to discover an old favorite artist is still making music. I had no idea that Justin Stewart Cotta (JSC) was still in the music game, and then my recent top 100 albums of the 2000s list brought that to light for me. He actually just released a new solo record called Melodies for Eulogies, and it launched on May 28th.
JSC hails from Australia, and is the vocalist for the defunct band Memento. They only released one album back in 2003 called Beginnings, and it is still one of the best alternative rock/metal albums I’ve ever heard. After including it in my list, JSC messaged me, and I was able to discover his newer work. On this new solo album, he handles vocals, piano, synth, and guitars. The rest of the lineup includes Kellii Scott on drums, Paul Ill on bass, and guest spots from Clint Walsh on guitar, James Norbert Ivanyi on ebow, Katrina Lenk on viola, and Marti Frederiksen on drums, bass, and guitar.
While his earlier music was definitely heavy and raw, this solo album shows his gentler, more vulnerable side. You might even call it maturity, I suppose. This album is more of a singer/songwriter affair, and is driven primarily by acoustic guitar, piano, and other melodic instruments. It is, however, a multifaceted record, one with layers of meaning, emotion, orchestration, and style.
One thing I’ve always loved about JSC is his individuality. He has always been eccentric. I remember watching videos of Memento back in the day where he would end up completely laid out on the floor with emotion, not to mention his ritualistic garments and makeup. That style of expression is still present, and he has no problem being “out there” on his music videos and in his dress. Sometimes, he even pronounces words in his own way, just to give a song a little quirky kick. I love that about him.
And I can’t write a review of this record without mentioning how excellent the lyrics are. JSC wrote some of the most powerful lyrics I’ve ever heard with Memento, and though the themes have changed, the quality has not. Even if a song may simply be about lost love, like so many other songs out there, the writing here is poetic, flowing, and striking. I think a good example of this is “Longing Is Not Love”, a tune that is groovy and catchy, to be sure, but the lyrics fit tightly together, like a perfect puzzle. And I noticed this on my first listen, too, since they are so well-written.
Melodies for Eulogies is a rock solid album, one that I feel gets better upon multiple listens. I should come right out and say that the first four tracks are absolutely amazing, and I’m not sure I’ve heard a four-track sprint this year as creative or as high quality as this one here. “Sketches” opens with a rocking track, and reminds me of his Memento days. The chorus is immense. “Love Yourself” comes next with illustrious acoustic grace, and I adore the exposed humanity in the tone. Next comes “Just Enough”, and I think it might be my favorite on the record. This song has such bluesy soul in its DNA, and the backing harmonies really elevate this track to something that has buried itself into my brain. Finally is the aforementioned “Longing Is Not Love”, a phenomenal track with amazing acoustic guitar, addictive rhythm, and, again, absolutely marvelous lyrics.
I love the rest of the record, too, with varied intensity. “Innocent Girl” and “Miracle Man” are both great songs with delicate moods and emotional vocals. The latter of the two has a brilliant chorus plus whistling—-yes, whistling—something that you don’t hear much anymore. The last few songs (besides some great bonus tracks) are “Sleep on Stones”, “Lady Stay”, and “Rain”, and they are wonderful, as well. “Sleep on Stones” is the last high energy (sort of) track on the record, and its climax is really good. Now, the last couple tracks are quite similar in tone, but they are achieved differently, “Lady Stay” relies on piano and eerie viola to create a melancholy atmosphere, one that is ripe for emotion. JSC takes full advantage of this. The final track, “Rain”, I will admit, took me several tries to like. It feels almost like improvisation. It lasts over 7 minutes, and is basically vocals and acoustic guitar, and JSC really explores some strange notes and vocal lines throughout. Once I grasped the idea, though, I really like it.
Justin Stewart Cotta has lost none of his potency. He has such gravitas and emotional capability, so much so that he can be overwhelming in certain moments. In some ways, he has deepened his abilities, and to create an album of this depth, even if it might seem simple on the surface, is a major feat. The more I explore this record, the more I find, and the more I love it. Here’s to hoping that JSC continues making music for a long time.
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