By Mykhailo Vil’yamson
It was once Guildenstern who said to Hamlet: “Dreams, indeed, are ambition, for the very substance of the ambitious is merely the shadow of a dream” (Act 2, Scene 2). This, of course, is multilayered in its interpretation, as is Tired Cossack’s sophomore release, I Know, I Guess. From the initial notes strikingly played on what sounds like a tsymbaly in the opening track, one is drawn into an encounter with the shadows that frontperson Stephen Levko is imaginably bumping into while both asleep and alert. While hammering down the meaning of the often obscure lyrics throughout the twelve songs is akin to trying to decipher the details of a dream upon waking, it might have something to do with generalized fatigue, partially veiled exasperation, routine and relationships, water and watching baseball. Regardless, this follow-up to their 2021 debut is exceedingly memorable – with equal amounts of continuity and progression of sound.
While Hocus Pocus leaned more heavily into the post-punk realm, the latest album does what their Bandcamp aptly describes; namely, it “[flows] like a meandering path devoid of care,” as it pertains to genre. There are still songs that are inarguably inspired by bands like Joy Division, such as “Dingo Starr” and “Tin” (with their waveringly distorted guitar tones and distinctive vocals that are similar to that of the late Ian Curtis). But there are tracks that noticeably border on nu metal – like the hard-hitting “Cowboy” and its counterpart “Zubov” – and various others for which the category of early 2000s alternative most suitably fits. Both “Upper” and “Downer” are also similar in their unexpected chorus moves (that keep things surprising). The other feature that sporadically stands out is Levko’s backwoods twang that he carries forward from older songs like “Drink from the Don” and “Pea Roll Along” (as can be heard prominently in the banger “Korean Baseball”). As for the darkest and most beautiful song on the project, it has to be “Casio” (that is thematically reminiscent of Björk’s “Hyperballad” or Frightened Rabbit’s “Floating in the Forth”).
All in all, I Know, I Guess delivers over forty minutes of mesmerizing content that is sure to thrill and challenge both old and new TC listeners alike. Accordingly, the replay value of singles from this project and the album as a whole is high. So–before you drift off to the dream world tonight, be sure to count sheep with Alexey on “Sardines.” And don’t forget to set your sleepy beepy.