Erin Incoherent is a unique artist with a great name and a colossal talent to match. The self-described ‘singer, musician, poet, writer, mental health advocate, model, artist, makeup junkie, loudmouth and strong woman’ is a force to be reckoned with. Ever since her publicist Radio Ready PR contacted me about a possible review of her latest album Medusa, my initial intrigue about Erin and her music has grown into full-blown admiration as I’ve learned more about her. Through her honest, provocative lyrics, her writings for the webzine The Punk Lounge, and her involvement with the Trigger Warning program in Philadelphia, I’ve found her to be an unflinching and outspoken champion for mental health and issues like domestic violence and sexual abuse. She’s also a great vocalist and pretty damned skilled on the guitar and ukelele.
Born Erin Cookman, the young singer-songwriter got her start in Fort Collins, Colorado, writing folk songs and making a name for herself on the local music scene. In 2013, she released her debut album Ha Ha Ha, a collection of eight terrific folk-rock songs featuring only her acoustic guitar and strong vocals. She followed up in 2015 with a second album Miss Shitskey, which included four of the tracks from Ha Ha Ha, and later that year, released a 3-song collaborative EP she recorded with artist CinderBlock, simply titled CinderBlock and Erin Cookman. In December 2017, Erin moved to Philadelphia and in April 2018 dropped her third album Medusa, an 11-song manifesto on anxiety, trauma and pain.
Erin’s music style tends mostly toward folk/indie rock, with punk sensibilities. She played guitar, ukelele, xylophone and sang most vocals on Medusa (with the exception of three songs she co-wrote with CinderBlock, who also sang with her on those tracks). Tenaya Heredia played bass and Chris Beeble, who also recorded and mixed the album, played drums. The album opens with the title track “Medusa“, a catchy but rather harsh song about drug addiction, with Medusa symbolizing the monster of addiction. Erin’s aggressively strummed guitar and fervent vocals convey the powerful and conflicting emotions expressed in the lyrics:
I’ll take a, laid back, panic attack
some Xanax mixed with, a tonic and Jack
two and one makes three, keep your eyes on me
20mg of Sertraline
I’ll take one for the anger and one for fatigue,
one for the restlessness, and one just to sleep,
and if after half the bottle, your symptoms increase,
don’t you worry too much, just call me.
Medusa! Destroy me, my love forevermore
the most beautiful thing I will see,
Medusa turn me to stone
oh Medusa, leave me alone!
“Ulcer” speaks to the pain and desolation from a failed relationship where love has died. Once again, Erin uses a metaphor, this time a broken home to symbolize her emotional state, and her lyrics paint a stark picture: “and the carpet was torn up to serve as a shortcut for people who’d rather have an easy way out / and the faucets are all rusted, don’t try them, just trust me / the last living occupants died from the drought.” The track opens and closes with a beautiful folk-sounding strummed acoustic guitar, but for the main part of the song, Erin’s more aggressive guitar riffs have a bit of a Spanish vibe.
Erin reunites with the singer/songwriter CinderBlock on three tracks, the first of which “How to Cope” speaks to struggling to keep it together and not let life’s problems from the past bring you back down: “I just need to stay off of that street at least until I’m strong enough to not sink to my knees. But every heartbreak song, like the falling leaves, are drifting through the branches of the very same trees of this rotten town, this rotten old temple.” “Lose Myself” is about weighing the consequences of surrendering yourself to romantic and emotional desires for another, and “Stronger Man” addresses the inability to get over an old flame: “I wrote ‘I miss you’ in your notebook, cause most days I do. And I don’t wanna see you, but it’s all I’m looking forward to. I remember drinking whiskey, making love, and making plans. I guess I’ll never be the stronger man.” Erin and CinderBlock’s vocals complement each other beautifully, melding together into sublime harmonies on all three tracks.
On “Destroy“, Erin sings of the damage she’s caused to a relationship, and wanting forgiveness yet knowing it may already be too late for that: “I wish you’d forgive me. Cause I fucking hate this. The end of the rope, yeah, we’ve tied both the nooses unless you’ll have mercy AND JUST FUCKING SHOOT US! Give me a sign that’s conducive to Spring. Unless it’s too late and I’ve destroyed everything.” Her guitar work on this track is exceptionally good. “Fallen” seems to be about not allowing others’ expectations and possible disappointments in you keep you mired in guilt, and preventing you from moving forward on your own path: “Now I’m left with these scars that will not heal. The pain it devastates, but tell me, is it real? Sworn to a creed, their tired old motif. But this is not my cross to bear.”
One of my favorite tracks is “Echoes“, a dark song about a relationship that’s broken beyond repair. Erin’s skill at writing biting and meaningful lyrics is impressive, and I offer as evidence this line that so poetically expresses how two people who once loved each other could become enemies: “A smoke screen was raised, we could not smudge one another with no time to waste, how easy are foes found in lovers.” Her ukelele on this track is hauntingly beautiful, as are her emotionally raw vocals. And I love the excellent video that shows her singing the song in a graffiti-covered abandoned building that’s as bleak as the lyrics.
“Splinter” speaks to the loss of self-esteem inflicted in large part by someone you once held up on a pedestal: “Oh girl, he’s just a splinter, his eyes whisper just a glimmer of the story you once told of gold in him” and the desire to feel good about yourself again: “Please, tell me I can be enough for anybody else. Please, cause I was so much happier when I could love myself.” Self-esteem takes a nosedive on the grim “Cheerleaders Smoke Crack“, another song about the struggles of addictive behaviors, with some brutally frank lyrics:
I watched myself burn out on the wrong side of the tracks,
I hitched a ride back, then watched myself fall off the wagon
It’s no use, I’ve tried, to hide in plain sight
This weight in my heart makes me try
a suicide attempt 26 stitches wide
Punk rockers, they never survive
They either burn out young or they change their mind
Not a safe place to be, for you or me
And junkies, they never grow old,
They either clean up their act or they overdose
And I guess, as long as they’re happy, I don’t mind
Alcoholics, truth be told,
They only see their future in a bottle of Skol
And I don’t wanna know those fools no more,
I don’t wanna be that fool no more
And you scared me nearly half to death,
You don’t look the same since you’ve been smoking meth,
But we all have different ways that we lose sleep.
We all have different ways that we lose…
The final track “Disturbia Suburbia” is also pretty unsettling. Erin plays ukelele, guitar and xylophone on this track, accompanied by a bouncy melody that sharply contrasts with the troubling lyrics about how suburbia is not all sunshine and green lawns: “An old friend killed himself before the start of Spring, I wonder if he left the weight of the world or if the weight of the world just left him hanging. / Leave it to me to get strung out, and freak everybody out then say, ‘I won’t do that again’. These days there’s nobody here, it feels surreal, so many years spent with kids I don’t even think I know, do they know me? Disturbia Suburbia, and I hope we all get out, and I hope we all feel free.”
Erin Incoherent covers a lot of heavy subject matter on Medusa, but it’s all deeply relatable and compelling, and sounds fantastic too. She’s an incredible songwriter and lyricist, and her guitar and ukelele playing are first-rate. I also like her strong, clear vocal style, which makes listening to her songs a real pleasure. All in all, I give a big enthusiastic thumbs up on this album.