While Missoula-based Cosmic Sans may boast a whimsical name, the self-described “Western psych” five-piece brings big goals and professionalism to its craft.

This May, the group will release its second full-length album, “Psychedelicatessen,” via the small Missoula label Drag Bunt Records. The label was founded by John Fleming, who also owns the long-running Missoula record store Ear Candy.

The name suits the project well. The record’s 9 tracks find the group exploring a hodgepodge of musical styles, from scuzzy garage punk to upbeat classic rock and guitar-heavy prog. 

The band will have the opportunity to perform songs from “Psychedelicatessen” next week when they appear at Boise’s long-running Treefort Festival. Headliners for the festival include iconic singer-songwriter Ani DiFranco, veteran indie rock group Dinosaur Jr. and country-rock star Margo Price. (Billings’ power-pop group Hey, ily! will also perform.)

Cosmic Sans applied three times to Treefort before the festival accepted their application this year.

“I was freaking out,” recalled Jake Howell, the group’s lead vocalist and co-songwriter, about getting the long-awaited acceptance email.

As for their new record, “Psychedelicatessen” marks a bold departure from the group’s previous work.

The band met in 2019 while attending the University of Montana, and released their eponymous debut two years later. While that album tended to veer toward noodly jams and loose song structures, the new material is loaded with catchy hooks and dramatic guitar work. Lead single “Hello!” and the Stones-esque “Late Summer,” for instance, lean into earworm vocal melodies, while “Dogman” and “11” showcase spiraling guitar figures.

“The ideas are more concrete,” multi-instrumentalist Will Stoskopf told Montana Free Press of the album during a recent interview at Missoula’s Union Club. 

“The performances are better than on the previous album. The compositions are better,” Howell added.

The group cited a range of influences on their sound, from classic rock star Todd Rundgren to contemporary artists like Jack White. Stoskopf draws a line between the album’s disparate sounds and those on Wilco’s 2001 album “Yankee Hotel Foxtrot.”

Cosmic Sans recorded “Psychedelicatessen” at a variety of locations: their home studio, multi-instrumentalist Seamus Jennings’ grandparents’ cabin in Monarch, and Attack and Release Sound in Missoula. 

 “The performances are better than on the previous album. The compositions are better.”

Cosmic Sans’ Jake Howell

Jennings again serves as the project’s lead engineer and the album showcases his developing studio prowess. Cole Bronson’s nimble drums boom and crack with clarity, while vocalist Howell’s alternating howls and croons rise through the dramatic arrangements.

Beyond the album release — tentatively scheduled for May 6 — and Treefort appearance, Cosmic Sans has applied to eight more festivals for the summer. They’re currently plotting a tour through the southwest as well.

Yet much of the band’s focus remains on its home turf of Missoula. The band expressed optimism that more bands are forming in town lately, and they hope to see more DIY performance spaces open. (A couple of days before our interview, the DIY space Squish, where they had booked a record release show, shut down.) 

“It feels like there’s bands here again. I’m not seeing the same five people,” Howell said. “More bands means more people complaining about the lack of venues, like we’ve been,” he added.

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Max Savage Levenson writes "The Sit-Down" column for Montana Free Press. Max is additionally the founder of Big Sky Chat House, a weekly long-form interview newsletter featuring movers and shakers across Montana. His writing on music and cannabis policy has appeared in outlets including Pitchfork, NPR's All Songs Considered, the San Francisco Chronicle, and Reason.