The Coo, the musical duo behind the hushed, gorgeous “If Only”, began in a way that has a special resonance in our current moment. A chance meeting at an open mic night in Amsterdam brought Matt Arthur and Jara Holdert together, but there was something bigger keeping them apart: namely, the North Sea. With Arthur living in the United Kingdom, and Holdert in the Netherlands, they had to find a way to collaborate regularly without constant trips to and fro. And so they worked remotely, writing songs through WhatsApp and FaceTime in between occasional performances in Amsterdam and London.
Now that the ongoing pandemic has forced us to communicate remotely with each other, with no performances in London coming anytime soon, “If Only” provides a heartening reminder: even when people are far apart, they can still make something beautiful together. We take the internet for granted so often that we don’t stop to think about what a miracle even the choppiest Zoom call really is.
Of course, “If Only” was written and recorded before the pandemic, and the atmosphere of the live recording is part of what gives the song its grace and power. Recorded in an old Amsterdam synagogue in front of a small crowd, there’s a clarity to the acoustics that can only come from a place of quiet reverence. It doesn’t feel self-consciously grand, like a lot of other songs recorded in churches or synagogues; it just feels peaceful, personal, and reflective.
The Coo originally bonded over Laurel Canyon songwriters like Carole King, Joni Mitchell, and James Taylor. “If Only” reflects that; indeed, I’m most reminded of Jessica Pratt, another contemporary folkie who draws inspiration from the golden hour sunlight of that music scene. Like Pratt, The Coo’s music marries evocative spaciness with in-the-same-room intimacy, and Holdert’s voice sounds like a warmer, more welcoming cousin of Pratt’s elfin croon. However, while Pratt’s coffee-house fantasias sometimes feel like they can drift off into the ether, The Coo are considerably more grounded. Even at its sparsest, “If Only” feels immediate; they are here in front of you, playing their guitars and singing.
The chiming acoustic guitar that carries “If Only” forward is another key to its success. Any prospective folk songwriters should listen and take notes: there’s no reason to settle for boring guitar strumming when you could be more creative. The three-note figure that starts the song is simple, but you never get tired of listening to it; it’s rose-garden pretty, and the way it intertwines with Holdert’s vocal melody draws you in and keeps you listening. Gentle percussion and tight vocal harmonies flesh the song out further, letting it feel climactic without breaking the peaceful atmosphere.
“Might step away from this old world,” Holdert muses as the song begins, “and drown myself in solitude.” Right now, a lot of us must feel like we’re drowning in solitude, but “If Only”’s sweet meditation reminds us of the old saying about lemons and lemonade. Yes, you might be alone with nothing but time, but that could be just the thing to help you reflect upon yourself and learn more about who you are, what you want. And if the enormity of the situation is too much and you can’t do anything, well, that’s OK too. The old world will come back someday, and you’ll be there to welcome it.
Hey, Quick Sponsored Thing: PR Service to Get Your Music Featured in Blogs & Spotify Playlists
Our friends at Omari are really good at helping artists get heard and listed in cool indie blogs and playlists. They've worked with big acts (Judah & the Lion) and bedroom artists alike (which is feasible cuz service starts at $77). Anyway, take a look. Disclaimers: it's an affiliate link, and yeah, they're good.
If you're tired of pitching your music yourself, if you finally want to find your audience, or if you just like us, click here to learn more.