A Punk's Garden Of Versus

Kowtow Popof

Wampus Multimedia, 2023


REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg


That title is your first clue that postmodern art-pop savant (and incorrigible punster) Kowtow Popof has returned.

When last we encountered Mr. Popof, he had again succeeded in turning my mind inside out (in a good way) with 2020’s garage-rock-flavored yet dependably enigmatic Action Figure. Whatever pieces of the musical past he might allude to in constructing his art, he makes sure to twist and transform it in a way that leaves your expectations a pile of smoldering ash.

A Punk’s Garden of Versus sees our man Kowtow again pulling off a silky marriage of organic and electronic tones, decorating this warm, distinctive backdrop with lyrics that range from impressionistic to inscrutable. For example: opener “Me And Meander” mounts sturdy acoustic strums atop dreamy synths and a pulsing, elastic groove, layering reverbed vocals over the top on a number that smacks of Tears For Fears in their prime, other than a fragmentary lyric that invites the listener inside what feels like a dream.  

The less dreamy, more fun “House Of Flat Tires” pairs a slightly cheesy synth organ with flange-y electric guitars, again riding an elastic-fantastic groove as Popof declares “She’s too hard a sell to tell the untold liars / from the grudge you owe the House of Flat Tires / Bang-Shang-A-Lang…” Sure, okay. The main thing is, it’s pulsing and hypnotic, like a particularly outer-spaced Bowie tune covered by Peter Gabriel circa 1984.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Next up, “Leaving Indiana” matches warm, burnished acoustic and electric guitars with gentle synth washes, an airy number about getting out and going… anywhere, really. Just out. Then “Sketches Of Spam” delivers a typically appealing instrumental (2009’s Exalted Headband gave us a whole album of them) with a slightly Spanish flair to the main hook, that nonetheless explores all points of the compass over its 3:28 course, another tasty Kowtow confection.

“Wrong Side Of Town” is a mid-tempo lament with a breathy, keening feel that offers one of Popof’s more relatable observations: “A song that you know / will find you when you’re low.” That elusive accessibility blossoms further on “Down On Rockabye,” a pushing, rather hooky number with a touch of Tom Petty jangle in the guitars, supporting a lyric that feels like it’s describing an Edward Hopper painting. “After The City” follows with a heavier feel, an impressionistic portrait of that one girl who looks like she has it all but is crumbling inside.

Popof flexes his instrumental prowess once more with “And Her War Tank” (the man does have a way with titles), opening with synth and drums, a marching cadence that supports warm, lilting guitar that beefs up on the choruses to something almost Cream-like. Finally, closer “Sundial In The Shade” features rather post-punk attitude in the vocals, contrasting with the chiming acoustic and silvery electric guitars; imagine The Clash cutting a mostly acoustic number circa 1982 and you’re halfway there. The lyric, though, feels like sound painting, a series of sonorous images conveying an atmosphere rather than telling a story.

Where Kowtow’s previous albums have typically featured a grab-bag of influences, the crisp, airy, frequently reverbed sound on A Punk’s Garden Of Versus has a distinct early-’80s feel. As always, though, its comes down to the quality of the songs, and Popof is a gifted alchemist, melding a mélange of influences into something fresh and new and distinctly his own.

The thing I come back to again and again while listening to Kowtow Popof is that he’s defying the odds, connecting with a listener like me. I’m much more Beatles and Fountains Of Wayne than Bowie and Zappa: a sucker for a punchy hook, hearts worn on sleeve and a clear narrative flow. Yet Kowtow’s work seems to land with me every time, managing the magic trick of making at times inscrutable art-rock feel engaging rather than off-putting. It’s no small feat; well done, sir.

Rating: B+

User Rating: Not Yet Rated



© 2023 Jason Warburg and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Wampus Multimedia, and is used for informational purposes only.