The Cocker Spaniels
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The Cocker Spaniels

Band Rock Singer/Songwriter


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"The Cocker Spaniels "Withstand the Whatnot""

Imaginary girl Liz sent along five tracks available on the C. Spaniels website and asked if I would be willing to consider including the band in the September edition of astroPOP. I told her sure, that's what it's for. Twenty-four year old Sean Padilla (who pretty much IS the Cocker Spaniels) is on the "Dirty South Summer '05" tour, but isn't coming anywhere near Seattle, so that column would be the perfect place to plug the sunny, funny, mad-scientist bedroom art-pop she'd recently encountered whilst recently attending the Athens Popfest.

Thing is, I actually have Withstand the Whatnot, the full-length those songs are from in a stack of albums left over from editing BANDOPPLER Magazine, and just hadn't listened to it yet. Once I started to, though, I found myself falling in love, and forced to plug the 21-song album at greater length, hoping it will run as a long review on TIG.

You see, this is the first stuff I've heard since I encountered Sufjan Stevens in the late 90s to melt my heart this way. "When I was a little tyke, I played with books and wires — quiet, skinny as a rail, not an athlete or a fighter," Pedilla reveals his youth near the end of the album, flashing back to his upbringing in Brooklyn, NY, watching his father work the turntables at clubs. Becoming "MC Little Sweetie" came about by reading Bible stories and singing songs into a tape recorder for his grandmothers. By the mid-90s, inspired by bands like Guided By Voices and Sebadoh, he began releasing independent tapes with titles like Radio President, Geatland, and the double-cassette Fear of Girls (!!). "I believe in my music, and I believe that there are people out there who want to hear it," he writes on his website. Crafting layered but joyfully simple alternative chartbusters, doing a website ("Mundane Sounds"), pubbing a print zine ("Too Broke to Rock"), Spaniels is a classic nerd-punk-artist.

Withstand the Whatnot has been out for a while, as Padilla has moved to Texas and then to Austin (that line actually makes sense if you know anything about Austin and Texas), and has been working on a follow-up he says will be called Sometimes You've Got To Fight To Get A Bit Of Peace. But his compact disc debut should not be missed, despite the patronizing, misunderstanding reviews rags like "Left of the Dial" have given it. This album is chock full of lovingly crafted, majestically weird, achingly sincere, wonderfully funny, bizarre little gems.

"The Only Black Guy At The Indie Rock Show" starts the album (and is available on the C. Spaniels website), and evokes chuckles with lines such as "(I'm) the only sign of melanin in one big sea of ivory," "I look just like a thug against the dressed down Pavement fans," ending with, "I wonder if white folks who like Jay-Z feel as alienated as me?" As Chuck D said in SPIN in the 80s, miscegenation is a beautiful thing, and the viewpoint(s) Spaniel brings to this kind of nearly-one-man-band DIY chamber pop intensify the flavors.

Instead of sticking to the cryptic ennui-poetry that most songs of this type are written around, Spaniel isn't afraid to be topical in both big and small ways, and his descriptions of blacks in the Student Union at his college in "Little Africa," and the cheapness and cruelty shown to pizza delivery people and phone workers in "Fifteen Percent, Please" and "Telemarketing Song" are cunning.

Like Loudon Wainwright or Elvis Costello, Spaniels doesn't stick with merely sharp satire — his songs can be heartbreakingly confessional, too. His observation and imagery in the devastating "Your Things Are In The Yard" vividly recounts his parents' fighting and eventual divorce. Although the perfect power pop of "Final Season" is one of the most fun songs you'll hear all year, with lines like "running on coffee and pep pills, still yawning — my forehead is covered with words spelled backwards," it shares genuine anxiety from the frantic narrator. The long distance relationship he sings of in "Weekend Girl" can only be experienced first-hand. Although he won't print the lyrics to "Temptation Song," he describes his obsessive lust with clarity. And the album closes on a blunt and vulnerable request for guidance, "Hold Me Accountable," reminiscent of the stark outsider-gospel of the Danielson Familie.

Like the two guys in They Might Be Giants, Padilla is a humble weirdo with something to say, and though sometimes it's just an observation to make you laugh, it also inevitably makes you think, in spite of its gentle humor. The fact that his work also brazenly bares his soul makes him a unique artist as well, and makes me desperate to hear "Sometimes You've Got To Fight To Get A Bit Of Peace."

---Chris Estey, August 17, 2005 - Three Imaginary Girls

"The Cocker Spaniels "Withstand the Whatnot""

The notion of a one-man band has always seemed like a bit of a novelty to me. Whenever I used to hear or read of an artist who supposedly played every single note on his or her recordings, the image I conjured would be something along the lines of this:

(image of a goofy overweight man with an accordion, a bass drum and a trumpet strapped to his back)

That, or Prince.

It wasn't until one fateful day in late 2002, when after a long, ponderous rehearsal with a band I was trying to flesh out did I, like Jane Goodall and her fastidious chimps, finally understand the logic behind the one-man band: frustrated with incompetent musicians, the one-man band seeks to throw caution to the wind, take charge of his or her own art, and unleash it upon the world regardless of technical or sonic limitations. With this sentiment in mind I began spending my days sleeping and my nights writing and recording songs by my lonesome.

Handling all of the vocal, guitar, bass, percussion, and keyboard duties on his 21-song behemoth of an album, Withstand The Whatnot, Sean Padilla (a.k.a. the Cocker Spaniels) seems to have been bitten by the one-man band bug, as well.

But, let's cut to the chase: what are some things you, the all-powerful consumer, need to know about this record so you can ultimately decide whether or not to pick it up?

1) Who is this guy?

Sean Padilla is Stephen Malkmus minus all the white-boy pretense, Rivers Cuomo minus the neuroses and the Asian girl fixation, and Robert Pollard plus or minus 3 songs. He's got a heart of gold and loves cute, furry things.

2) What does the album sound like?

Most of the songs sound like an amalgam of all the aforementioned artists' bands with Mr. Padilla's own unique twist. "Noisy, smart-alecky, lo-fi alt-rock", perhaps? Padilla's voice is much like his music, completely distinctive but procuring enough from the past to sound somewhat familiar. To put it in press clip-ready terms:

Each tune exudes an effortless exuberance that could only come from a lifetime of incessant music consumption; every track is positively illuminated with a wondrous sense of style, structure, and craft. And while his songs remain firmly rooted in the past, all of the aforementioned elements are distinctly Mr. Padilla's.

3) Is there anything you particularly like or dislike about the record?

The songs are pretty much all top-notch; there's nothing to really dislike here. If you're visiting Scene Point Blank, there's a solid chance that you'll probably dig the Cocker Spaniels. Padilla's lyrics are intelligent and pointed a great majority of the time, but, occasionally, he'll come up with a few hamfisted duds (case in point: from "The Thugs Have Left The Building"- "I may use a fist/or pull out a gun/whatever it takes/to get the job done"). A great example of Padilla's witty style of discourse, however, can be found in "Finals Season". A cleverly written account of turning a GPA from "a 2.1 into a 3.6" "Finals Season" is set against an infectious, almost Pavement-esque waltz. Another example of Padilla's brilliant grasp on language and the art of storytelling is the utterly charming "Little League (a.k.a. the Continuing Adventures of Baby Brother), with its catchy refrain- now I'm not saying that he ain't smart/and I'm not saying that I ain't strong/but if comparisons must be made/then I'm the brains/and he's the brawn- strikes me as a cross between an alt-pop nursery rhyme and the soundtrack to the old SNES game, F-Zero.

Throughout the songs, an almost jazzy quality pervades the mix- most notably, in the harmonies and the drums, which swing rather than batter senselessly. As far as things I dislike, the mix I received (I reviewed the unmastered version of Withstand the Whatnot) is simply atrocious- the drums are almost inaudible and the vocals are much too high in the mix. But, I suppose that's the price one pays for remaining "lo-fi". While I wouldn't consider any of the songs filler by any stretch of the imagination, since just about everything here is catchy as hell and memorable in some way, shape, or form- with the exception of "Telemarketing Song", which should've been cut, plain and simple- I do believe many of Withstand the Whatnot's tracks could've stood to have been trimmed just a tad in the running time department.

4) All right. You have me sold, Jon, what with your winning smile and brilliant "style of discourse", as you put it so eloquently. But I have a severe case of ADHD, so, can you give me five sentences on why should I plunk down my hard-earned cash on this album?

Plain and simple, friend of friends: the songs are great. I don't think I can stress this enough. Padilla may like to sweet talk his tunes into spending the night just so he can dress them up in frilly suits, pompadours, and feather boas, but there's no concealing the fact that these are some solid, well-written songs. Moreover, this record warrants repeated listens, as many of these tr - Scene Point Blank

"The Cocker Spaniels "Withstand the Whatnot""

I've had the pleasure of knowing many cocker spaniels in my day, each distinct in their personalities yet united by their complete unwillingness to behave in any way remotely like any other dog. In this respect, Sean Padilla has chosen the perfect moniker for his prolific musical adventures. Withstand the Whatnot is the first official CD release after a string of self-released Cocker Spaniels cassettes and CD-Rs. It features 21 songs, over a hour's worth of spastic energy that includes the miniature suite "Your Things Are In The Yard", and scene-stealing opener "The Only Black Guy at the Indie-Rock Show", which is Padilla self-identified. Padilla plays nearly everything on the record, but you'd hardly know it wasn't recorded by a live band. Recommended for depressed GBV fans, anxious Swearing At Motorists truck drivers, and anyone who can relate to the questions, "Did your pizza not come on time? / ...Well, if so, then why'd you stiff?"

---Michael Metivier, February 21, 2005 - Popmatters


"GEATLAND" CS (1995)
"FEAR OF GIRLS" 2xCS (1997)



The Cocker Spaniels began Christmas 1994, when teenage Brooklynite Sean Padilla received a Yamaha MT8X and a drum kit for Christmas after years of collecting and teaching himself how to play other instruments (guitar, bass and piano). He immediately began recording the stockpile of songs he'd been writing since age eight, with his two best friends Alex Wing and Jonathan Koza helping him out. Together, they had a Sebadoh-like arrangement in which everyone sang, wrote songs and traded instruments. This arrangement didn't last very long though; over the next two years, Sean's family relocated to Pennsylvania and then to Texas, where he has lived ever since.

Because of the move, Sean was forced to sing and play every instrument on almost every Cocker Spaniels song recorded from 1996 onward. He attended a predominantly black high school in Beaumont, TX, where most of his peers didn't know what to make of his music. Sean's confessional, experimental pop songs didn't sound anything like the DJ Screw-style hip-hop they were fond of at the time. He often got booed by large crowds at local talent shows, and tables of his homemade tapes were occasionally overturned in the school lunchroom. You could say it was a case of "different strokes for different folks."

As you can probably guess, Sean spent the late '90s creating his music in a vacuum, with an audience consisting mainly of himself and his friends. This began to change when he gained internet access in 1998. The Internet helped him network with like-minded people from around the world. Sean began to send his music to various DIY publications and trade tapes with fellow bedroom musicians. Through these methods, he received a lot of positive press and built a strong web presence. It was comforting to know that even if few people in Beaumont liked his music, people in England and Australia were digging it.

Sean enrolled at Waco's Baylor University in 1999. A year later, he finished his first CDR (and sixth album-length Cocker Spaniels release overall), "Little White Truths." He also began playing sporadic live shows, through which he gained a small but devoted following in Lubbock, Denton, Houston and Austin. Due to various family and financial crises, Sean was forced to start working two jobs to support himself during his junior year, while still remaining a full-time student. As if that wasn't enough, he also began participating in Baylor's Heavenly Voices Gospel Choir. With every year, his responsibilities in that organization grew bigger, from merely playing guitar to teaching Bible study and eventually becoming the choir's musical director and bandleader.

Throughout all this, Sean kept writing, recording and performing his Cocker Spaniels songs during what little spare time he had. Over a three-year time period, he finished 21 songs that would eventually constitute his first professionally mastered and pressed CD: "Withstand the Whatnot." Ever since the album's release in March 2004, the Cocker Spaniels' fan base has been steadily growing and Sean's songs have been gaining new converts...even semi-famous ones (Sufjan Stevens, TV on the Radio, the Desert Fathers)! The CD has received mostly positive press (not everyone likes Sean's music, but everyone certainly *reacts* to it) and airplay on college radio stations across the country.

Sean graduated from Baylor in May 2004 with a BBA in Broadcasting. Sean toured the Southeast in the summer of 2005 and toured the Midwest and Northeast that fall. Over the last three years, he has shared stages with a diverse range of artists (TV on the Radio, Cex, Grupo Fantasma, the Weird Weeds, Beep Beep, et cetera). His solo live performances, which often blur the line between rock music, stand-up comedy and church-like testimony are not to be missed!

Sean currently lives in Austin, where he works as an accountant at a laser tag center. When he's not crunching numbers, he's working on the next Cocker Spaniels album, "Sometimes You've Got to Fight to Get a Bit of Piece," which he plans to release in the spring of 2008. This time around, though, Sean will receive valuable help from Steffani Summerise, a graphic artist based in Memphis, TN, who will provide various visual and aural stimuli to accompany his releases and live shows.