Lorenzo Gillis Cook has always channeled a unique sense of youth in his music that has remained unparalleled to other indie artists, housing this frustratingly lovesick, yet highly impassioned and fervid energy in his lo-fi, confidently diy instrumentals, accompanying stunning, specific narratives evoking all the saturated colors of a cherished retro baseball card. Just by looking at the illustrative song titles splayed across his first three albums as Petite League, you can immediately imagine the sun shining radiantly during the first blissful moments of summer – when listening to them, it’s always as if you can actually feel the warmth on your skin. These albums were all periods of finding and exploring identity, of making mistakes and memories, but, eventually, summers must come to an end; In Rattler, Petite League’s fourth full-length album, the baseball bat held onto so tightly in years past is switched out with a cowboy hat, summarizing a stunning transitory phase for everyone’s favorite indie expat.
When a recent show was postponed due to rain, Gillis Cook – and his band, consisting of longtime friend, collaborator, and drummer Henry Schoonmaker, and multi-instrumentalists Adam Greenberg and Dan Pugh – promptly held another one in his backyard. There was something so incredibly fitting about this last-minute alteration, almost as if a longtime friend was asking if you wanted to drink cheap beer and sit in the tattered lawn chairs he’s been meaning to replace for years now. The pictures posted after the show looked like the epitome of a perfect summer night, friends and strangers huddled near plants adorned with string lights, hearing rare acoustic versions of an album worked on diligently for the past two years, perhaps not aware of what specifically went into its creation:
“2018 was a different kind of year for me. Most likely under the dominion of a Quarter Life Crisis, I decided change was necessary and it needed to happen swiftly. So, like an unhinged 24 year old with a glaring identity crisis, I cut ties, I tied new ones, I split my time outside of the city and upstate, toyed with the idea that maybe I’d be happier giving up on everything I had loved to focus on what was right in front of me, and embraced the idea that music would come when it felt right instead of giving myself deadlines for the first time.”
What results is an incredibly thoughtful, concise album with the same irresistible lo-fi charm but with a newly found and matured sense of worth, clearly because ample time was taken to ruminate over them. Title track and opener “Rattler” bursts out with the signature Petite League raspy croon-yell and an immediate nod to the cowboy persona (“oh the snakes in the grass will rattle/ and the horse’s spook knocked you off your saddle”), but most importantly, also comes with a sense of confident resilience (“it’s far/ but we can make it/ I’ve got a broken heart/ you can’t break it”). Even the guitar throughout is newly manipulated in a confident manner that constantly works to respect each narrative – the serrated interlude between verses in “The Devil’s Rifle is Named After You” sounds like someone juggling a thousand chainsaws at a state fair; The rampaging melody in “White Knuckle Wildflower” evokes a horde of wild horses.
There’s also a nod to Gillis Cook’s creative process within the groovy “Blood Gardens,” where he destroys the stark egotistical persona heard on “New York Girls” and instead admits he’s still a “soft boy” at heart; Ultimately, he channels the pain and emotion into his music, repeating that “I pour my blood in the garden so the grass grows,” digging deeper and deeper until the music translates something real. “White Knuckle Wildflower” also brings out another version of vulnerability among the thrashing noise – the instrumentals, while upbeat and fun, tell a tale of desperation and yearning, wanting to leave, but simultaneously not wanting to leave anything behind. He touches on the aforementioned summary of the album, reminding himself “it’s gonna get easier someday, when you walk away from this city,” and if you wait too long, “the devil’s gonna run you out of town.” It’s a nod to a new beginning, but not without the dose of wistfulness that seems to come complimentary. “Infinite Fields,” explores the wistfulness a little more in the form of an acoustic guitar laden ballad, where he explains at his most calm, but simultaneously at his most somber, that “I’ve swam in sweeter oceans/ honey, it’s all the same,” and that “If you’ve loved the way I’ve loved/ you know no greater pain.”
In that regard, the wonderful thing about closer “Yung Bubblegum” is how it works to summarize and equalize these ideas of maturity and love sickness seen throughout the album so eloquently. The meticulous, yet saccharine sweet guitar melody radiates and expands only to fittingly “pop” at the chorus, honing in on Gillis Cook’s voice at its most amplified, asking “American sweetheart/ why’d you have to be so mean to me?” He wakes up with the bubblegum matted in his hair, but, blinded and infatuated by this person, he admits “as long as the dreams were good/ I don’t care.” It’s jagged and soft all at once, including all the best parts of a classic Petite League song all in one. At the very end, we get a stripped-down, demo version of the chorus, which truly drives home not only the fact that he wrote and recorded all of this in his home, but that these narratives were something he truly put his entire self into.
When I was a kid, my favorite movie was The Sandlot – I don’t know why, considering I didn’t play baseball, but perhaps the reason why I loved it so much is the exact same reason why Petite League’s music speaks to me so coherently. Though I am blessed to have had a quiet, happy childhood, I didn’t really have the sort of ragtag, rambunctious, skin-your-knee kind of childhood or the sort of rebellious, lovesick adolescence I saw in these sorts of movies – or perhaps I just didn’t notice it or take advantage when it was happening. Now that I’m in my mid-twenties, I’m trying to make more of a conscious effort to remember my best, most vivid memories during that time and to evoke that sort of carefree, inspired happiness in my life any way I can – to simply try and just have fun without thinking about why I’m doing it. Despite the occasional heartsick lyric every now and again, Petite League’s music will always be one of the immediate gateways into that pure, wholesome feeling, and I’ll forever be grateful for it.
And though I admit I could probably expound for days on why this album is so wonderful, it will never come close to Gillis Cook’s own thoughts on the album, which he shared earlier today:
“Rattler is a record about self-care and self-destruction. It’s about toeing the line of being an oblivious ego tripper and a walking introspective panic attack. It’s about falling in love with someone so terrifying its exciting and leaving it because life is all too exciting and terrifying. It’s about the skittish hum of New York City and the piercing silence in the middle of nowhere. It’s about growing up and being happy and it’s about growing up and learning what that really means.
And, to sum it all up, in a year where everyone wrote their cowboy album, it’s just about being the rattlesnake.”
Rattler is out today via Zap World Records, Lorenzo Gillis Cook and Henry Schoonmaker’s new label. Vinyl is also available!
photo courtesy of artist