Less than a year ago Cones’ released their spectacular debut album, Pictures of Pictures. An intoxicating blend of shimmering psychedelic exploration and muscular pop craftsmanship, the record is built upon infectious hooks and deep grooves. Recorded at the band’s own Honeymoon Suite studio in LA, Pictures of Pictures hints at everything from Big Star and the Replacements to ELO and the Bee Gees. Cones have since taken the record on the road playing west coast venues from Seattle to San Diego, including San Francisco’s Noise Pop Festival 2020.
As if the music wasn’t stunning enough, Cones’ revealed Bob’s Room, a VR interactive experience that explores Pictures of Pictures. The game was developed by Cones’ keyboardist/producer Michael Rosen, with all of the artwork and animation created by Cones’ guitarist and principal singer/songwriter Jonathan Rosen. The user can interact with sounds and visuals from the album by moving the phone or swiping, with easter eggs aplenty as objects in the environment are clickable for exploration. Add headphones into the equation for a fully immersive experience to get lost in.
Amidst quarantine and stay at home orders, Cones have been curating an ongoing livestream mini-festival series Room Service, showcasing brief self-isolating live sessions from Martin Courtney, Hand Habits, Jerry Paper, SadGirl, Dent May, Shannon Lay, Frankie Cosmos, Hazel English, and many more.
Now they return with a new song called “Outside” a topical, groovy meditation on the current landscape of stay at home orders . Written over the course of two weeks, it is a song about the feeling of isolation borne out of quarantine with the accepting refrain, Gonna be a long time / Til I go outside. Regarding the process of recording amongst stay at home orders Michael reveals, “We worked on it in my studio, recording all the parts ourselves, except for the drums. We had our drummer track his parts from his own home set-up. So it was definitely a creative isolation method of recording”
The accompanying video is pure Cones. A processed picture taken on an isolated walk of a beautiful landscape, animated to be explorable as a 360 VR experience. The result is an honest attempt to capture the feeling of communication with the outside during quarantine.
The Rosen brothers draw on their radically different backgrounds here to remarkable effect: Michael is classically-trained and technically-minded, with a degree in composition and music technology; Jonathan has always taken a more intuitive, abstract approach based on his obsessive love for classic pop. The result is a whole far greater than the sum of its parts, a record that feels at once futuristic and vintage, spontaneous and deliberate, playful and profound.
Listening to Pictures of Pictures you might expect to find that the Rosen brothers have been playing together since childhood, but the truth is that they only began collaborating much more recently. As members of the New York indie band Icewater, they opened for and backed up The Fiery Furnaces’ Eleanor Friedberger extensively on the road, and in 2014, they moved back to LA to write and record on what would become Friedberger’s critically acclaimed ‘New View’ album. The more time the pair spent working together, though, the more they began to understand the special bond they shared and the unique way their respective strengths could fit together. “Beyond the ‘cuteness’ of being brothers in a band, there was this unconditional love and understanding that allowed us to create better things together than either one of us could alone,” says Michael.
Under the name Cones, the brothers released a series of early singles to rapturous response. KCRW hailed the music’s “easy breezy SoCal feel,” while Stereogum called it “wonderfully groovy synth-pop,” and Fader described the tunes as “golden” and “sunny.” Tapping into his visual side, Jonathan created a series of extraordinary animated music videos to accompany the tracks (he’s also animated videos for Friedberger, Toro y Moi, and Delicate Steve), capturing the off-kilter nature of the songs with trippy, kinetic images that flow and morph endlessly into each other.
“Jonathan’s songwriting and animations are beautiful in that they both have a sense of humor, but they’re also very deep and nostalgic,” says Michael. “I always try to make sure our recordings feel that way, too.”
It’s that potent mixture that makes Pictures of Pictures so engrossing, with loss and sadness always hanging in a delicate balance alongside hope and joy. For all that’s said in the music, though, perhaps the most powerful moments come from what goes unsaid, as Cones’ songs are living proof that some bonds run far deeper than language ever could. In the end, that’s what brotherhood is all about.