East River Pipe – We Live in Rented Rooms
Fred Cornog’s output as East River Pipe has always had a downer vibe to it, but the depress-o nature of his music has never felt gratuitous. For instance, if you were listening to a Nine Inch Nails record, it’s likely that about 1/3 of the way through, you would say “Trent, how can you still be this angry after all this time? What sort of pain have you actually experienced other than your white boy guilt?” Cornog has lived it – he battled depression, alcoholism, drug addiction, and ended up homeless in a Hoboken train station. Only Barbara Powers, the love of his life – who is also his agent and the person responsible for his music career – could pull him out of it. Still, it’s apparent that Cornog’s troubled past is his primary muse for his work. Though he’s had his shit together for some time, We Live in Rented Rooms – his first album in five years – is just about as bleak as anything he’s done. “Backroom Deals”, one of the best songs of the year, is a crushing lament on attempted indifference. “The whole world is made on backroom deals / I’d better get used to it,” Cornog sings with abandon. Even when he sounds optimistic about the future, it’s always tinged with regret, as in “When You Were Doing Cocaine”, which details a passionate affair with a cokehead roommate’s girlfriend. It’s almost as if, even in happiness, Cornog can’t help but feel sad about his surroundings. In a psych class I took up at KU, we learned that even if someone achieves their life dream – like winning the lottery, or getting the girl, or becoming famous – they will eventually return to their base mood, or who they really are. Luckily for us listeners, and especially for Powers, Cornog can channel his inner bleakness into awesome tunes.
Comet Gain – Howl of the Lonely Crowd
Since 1992, Comet Gain has been the outlet of songwriter David Bower (or David Feck, David Christian). Though 2008 saw the release of the popular compilation Broken Record Prayers, Howl of the Lonely Crowd is the first proper Comet Gain album since 2005. As a band, Comet Gain champions the spontaneous, a notion that is apparent thanks to the raw performances on their albums. However, their new record finds them concentrating on production more than ever before, spawning excellent results. The strong songwriting and melodies of “An Arcade from the Warm Rain that Falls” and soon-to-be Atheist anthem “Some of Us Don’t Want to Be Saved” are piquant with youthful vigor, and almost come off as a “Fuck-you-we’ve-been-doing-this-longer-and-better” to bands like Arcade Fire or Vivian Girls (and sure enough, Comet Gain’s 2005 album City Fallen Leaves features a song called “The Story of the Vivian Girls”, which is likely where the garage girl group lifted their name). Since Comet Gain has been around for so long and is obviously very influential, I think they are more than welcome to the occasional David Bowie or Lou Reed rip, especially when it’s done as brilliantly as in “Herbert Hunke Pt. 2”. It combines the themes of “Queen Bitch” and “I’m Waiting for the Man” into one chugging, super-catchy ode to junk-induced prostitution.
Title Tracks – In Blank
For some reason, John Davis is a name that is usually associated with power pop. Most will recognize it as the name of the lead singer for nineties power pop heroes Superdrag, but the John Davis that fronts Washington, D.C.-based Title Tracks is a different guy altogether (specifically, the guy from Q and Not U). However, as far as musical tastes and songwriting chops go, the two Johns don’t seem that far removed from each other – both harbor a lot of love for the power pop of the mid-to-late seventies, and I can imagine both have worn out their copies of the DIY: Come out and Play! compilations that are home to many a classic early power pop single. It certainly seems the Davis of Title Tracks has done this, and his band has become an outlet for all his Costello/Crenshaw/dB’s musings. While the first Title Tracks album had a live feel to it, In Blank sounds like it was recorded in one take, with overdubs saved for lead guitar and backing vocals. On a couple of songs, some guitars are so noticeably out of tune that it’s almost unbearable. But the band’s commitment to making a live-sounding album, flaws and all, is more than commendable when one begins to understand where they are coming from. All the old bands these guys strive to emulate (like The Flamin’ Groovies, whose classic “I Can’t Hide” is covered by the Tracks to perfection on In Blanks) took the same approach, usually out of necessity in regards to financial situations. Maybe it’s the same story for Title Tracks – it’s not like they have a lot of money to throw around, and I doubt The Ernest Jennings Record Co. does either – but I’m willing to bet it was done out of pure love for that classic, early power pop sound.
Tags: Arcade Fire, Barbara Powers, Comet Gain, David Bower, David Bowie, David Christian, David Feck, East River Pipe, Elvis Costello, Flamin' Groovies, Fred Cornog, John Davis, Lou Reed, Marshall Crenshaw, Nine Inch Nails, Superdrag, The dB's, The Ernest Jennings Record Co., The University of Kansas, Title Tracks, Trent Reznor, Vivian Girls