[23 January 2006]
Here’s a little brainteaser for you: name as many types of drug music as you can. I’ll start:
1) Classic rock drug music. Music aimed at expanding your consciousness as you float effortlessly through the second tab you just put on your tongue. Dude, the band is levitating! See: Jefferson Airplane, The Grateful Dead, The 13th Floor Elevators, Haight-Ashbury, Ken Kesey, The Merry Pranksters, etc. For further reading search Wikipedia for “psychedelia”.
2) Dance drug music. Early Manchester scene beats and pills, Happy Mondays, excessively large sound systems in the middle of fields, raves, and free love part II. For further information rent 24 Hour Party People, proceed to Detroit and the birth of house music, more pills and beats, ease into excessive speed use, grind your teeth and keep dancing.
3) Confessional drug use music. These songs usually follow a few years of over the top experimentation within either of the previous two entries. Songs about ruined lives, confessions of destroyed relationships, near death experiences in song, public admissions of going to the White House gacked to the gills. If you survive to this point there’s a good chance you’ll be redeemed by the power of music and get a reality TV show on one of MTV’s many networks.
4) Making music to take drugs to music. A more nebulous category but what else do you make of Spacemen 3 or Massive Attack or M83. Of course the best music in this category can make you feel high without actually taking drugs. The catch-22 is that in order to make music that makes people feel like they’re taking drugs you have to have taken a lot of drugs so you know the feeling. It’s just not going to work if while applying filters, envelopes, and effects to your songs you find yourself saying, “I think liberally applying Reasons RV-7 digital reverb effect will make people feel like they just took some horse tranquilizer.” It just happens. Take the horse pill first and then twiddle the knobs.
5) Day to Day maintenance drug music. This one is practically non-existent because the experience isn’t romantic or rock ‘n’ roll or hell raising. It’s about getting by, about needing an over the counter pharmaceutical to get out the door, about being brain dead until you have a cup of coffee or painfully shy until you have a cocktail. It’s music made to the tune of Ritalin or Prozac or Zoloft. It’s music that doesn’t celebrate drugs as much as acknowledge their vast explosion into the everyday life of ordinary folks. This is the music of F.M. Cornog’s East River Pipe.
As the title of East River Pipe’s What Are You On? implies: everybody’s got an addiction. Some of us embrace it, some of us hide from it, we all live with it one way or another, in the case of the sole member of East River Pipe F.M. Cornog holes up in his bedroom with his Tascam 388 mini-studio and writes small pop gems about it. This isn’t four on the floor escapism or music intended to expand consciousness through long feedback drenched guitar solos. Cornog’s music is carefully pieced together, delicate moments of song craft. He’s writing and singing about what it takes to get by. Whether he’s referencing legal remedies like “Paxil, Zoloft, Xanax” or more ordinary street bought dime bags, 40oz bottles of beer or strong cups of coffee, Cornog seems to have stopped asking why and simply accepted this consumption as a necessary mode of survival. Or do I have it all wrong? Is his apparent acceptance of our society’s pervasive use of medication to treat everything from depression to baldness really giving in? Or is its tone more mocking? Given Cornog’s historical challenges with a variety of substances I’d hope that he isn’t simply giving in, but instead pointing an accusatory finger at a country that’s rapidly making it chic to have a prescription in your pocket. Unfortunately, Cornog doesn’t give us quite enough material to let us make a sure guess either way.
Most of the music on What Are You On is based around drum machine beats and trebly guitars with Cornog’s flat nasally voice floating over layered keyboards. He has a gift for melody but seems to be resigned to the idea that his compositions won’t expand beyond the limitations of his lo-fi recording set up. It’s too bad because much of Cornog’s material could be majestic, grand and down right head bobbing if given the chance. He hints at moments of R&B style balladry (“Dirty Carnival”), guitar pop (“The Ultrabright Bitch”, “Absolutely Nothing”), and a solid 70’s A.M. radio groove, but few of these songs feel complete. All the songs, save for closer “Some Dreams Can Kill You”, hover around the two to three minute mark often feeling as if they’re over before they start. Songs like “Shut Up And Row” with its atmospheric keyboard start, layered vocals, beat heavy bridge, and ringing guitar seem poised for greatness, instead we get a hasty resolution and quiet exit after a mere two minutes and 17 seconds.
Now about “Some Dreams Can Kill You” which is practically epic at a tad over five minutes. Here Cornog doesn’t shy away from a drawn out guitar solo or developing the songs rhythm section into a head nodding groove. As the closing track on the album it makes me more conscious of how good the other songs could have been. There’s little doubt that Cornog is an excellent songwriter, his sense of melody and hook is impeccable, but What Are You On?, despite some fine moments, feels distracted and too brief with 13 songs in just over 35 minutes.