Ex-Cowboy's debut album does not resemble their namesake. The songs are beyond-the-grave whispers from (probably) dead cowboys, stuck in purgatory, intent on frightening the listener into the same submission to salvation in the afterlife that they wish they did in the first place.
Musically, the album is very strong. Songs like "Hunter's Daughters" and "Sinner's Circle" keep the overwhelmingly oppressive atmosphere present in the band's live performances, while benefiting from fleshed-out arrangements that include female vocals, violin, and piano.
A long time ago, I stumbled upon Rolling Stone magazine's original 1971 review for the Stones' Sticky Fingers. The article kept praising drummer Charlie Watts' cymbal-playing, leaving me wondering who on God's Green Earth really gives a shit about cymbal-playing. Well, Ex-Cowboy most certainly does, and I was wrong: Well-executed cymbal technique makes a big difference, managing to add to, and alleviate, the dizzying claustrophobia present everywhere.
The album's sole notable flaw is the song sequencing. After the vertigo-inducing openers "Old Man" and "Holden Caulfield," each uncomfortable dirge after the last begins to fade into one long cycle of non-redemption songs. Still, the individual tunes are engrossing, and Ex-Cowboy regains momentum with its finest track, "X Marks the Spot." Finally aggressive, the band whips up a relative frenzy.
Listening to this rewarding album might put you in a state of hopelessness and desperation, but then again, the prospect of burning in hell for eternity will, too.