September 22, 2003

East River Pipe "Garbageheads on Endless Stun"

East River Pipe's F.M. Cornog is a man who has nothing to prove. He's made several of the best records that you've never heard, and he's also written a number of classics that have been recorded by friends (and labelmates), Lambchop. He's got a keen sense of humor, and his words are both profound and enjoyable. He has a lot to say about the human condition, and his records have been a wonderful documenation of the down-and-out. Heck, he even had a big label offer him a million to be on their label, but was dropped without playing a note--though he still got paid for his trouble, and he walked away the winner. All from a guy who, several years ago, was down-and-out on his luck. Ya gotta love the underdog.

That said, it's been a LONG time since the last new East River Pipe album, and that, my friend, is too long. 1999's The Gasoline Age was a wonderful, interesting concept album that intertwined the subject of society and automobiles, adding a new depth to usual fare: love songs and tales of the broken-down, downtrodden and down-and-out. Mixing atmospheric ambience with classic-rock sensibility, The Gasoline Age is a hazy, dense-fog commentary on society. Or something like that. Listen to it on a Saturday morning after a heavy drinking session and you'll totally understand where Cornog's coming from.

What, then, to make of this new album? Garbageheads On Endless Stun isn't really much of an artistic growth from The Gasoline Age as it is a continuation of that great album. Heck, at times it almost seems to be a second volume of the Gasoline Age saga. Think I'm joking? Consider this, then: of the eleven songs on the album, eight of them contain references to cars, highways and other automobile-related subjects. The subject's not as heavy, though, so it's not as if he's retreading the same ground (highway?). Instead, he focuses on the street-level view of humanity, one that has nothing to do with The Gasoline Age, but has everything to do with Taxi Driver.

I'm not too worried about it, though. Even though the album seems to be less cohesive than previous albums, it's still got the one thing that Cornog does best: the songs. When the album starts off with the happy-go-lucky sounding "Where Does All The Money Go?," a commentary on wealth in society, it's as if an old friend has returned. The classic sound is all there; the atmosphere, the drum machine, the guitar, and Cornog singing his songs of a society that's wrong. Occasionally he gets a little bit funky with the drum machine ("Monumental Freaks" and "I Won't Dream About The Girl") but it's all done tastefully. Songs like "Girls on the Freeway," "Stare The Graveyard Down" and "Arrival Pad #19" clearly show that Jason Lytle owes Cornog at least a thank-you card. I haven't heard a mixture of synthesizer and sad lyrics since I last heard "I'm Not In Love."

F.M. Cornog doesn't make bad albums, and while Garbageheads on Endless Stun might not seem as immediate as his past releases, it's far from a clunker, and it doesn't blemish his impressive discography. I'd rather have a Garbageheads on Endless Stun than no East River Pipe record, and this one's a keeper. True, it may take a listen or two for it to all sink in, but don't worry; it will sink in, and you're all the better for it. Not many artists can make a bad record that's still one of the better records of the year--unless you're F. M. Cornog. A nice record from a proven talent.

--Joseph Kyle

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