Thursday, January 26, 2006

Everyday I Write the Song

"boombox gerbil" is the title
(Image copyright © 2006 Ben Cooper. All rights reserved.)

Electric President - "Grand Machine No. 12" (mp3)
(purchase here)

Last night I wrote an extended riff on a cocaine thought. I haven't quite come off of the trip, holding onto the bit while watching this peculiar doc on Duke Ellington. All this means is a lot of thoughts on musicality and how density plays within composition. All that means is I'm wondering that same ol' story, "What makes a good song?"

The short and easy is soul. And I don't mean in the performative sense, because we're talking about the song itself. Rather, I mean in the essence of the song -- there should be a purpose or a direction. Perhaps that direction is seemingly directionless or abstract in destination, like much of Andrew Hill's recent work. Perhaps that direction is explicitly clear, like NWA. Yet, as a musician, I forget how easy it is to wallow in noodling and exploration of the self, sort of like touching yourself without realizing that you're touching yourself.

Which is why Electric President is such a pleasant surprise. The press release may not have been encouraging -- "Some people might be reminded of Death Cab for Cutie's Benjamin Gibbard - but without the teenage angst" -- and even some of the lines within proved distasteful -- "I lost my taste for modern things" is really the sort of lyric that a twenty-something year old should only sing in jest (but irony is so over. That said, Ben Cooper and Alex Kane create an enjoyable record of pithy observations.

While principally a quiet guitar album, each song has been run through the production spin cycle, having parts looped, amped, distorted, etc. Postal Service minus the saccharine distrust? While the process sounds fun enough, of greater interest is the promising songwriting. Sure, "Grand Machine No.12" contains plenty of nods to contempo progressions -- check the "No Surprises" bridge -- but contains a surprising number of turns that glide by unnoticed. Like the smart joke that kills with any audience, the song has that glimmer of *unh* that anyone can recognize.

If Kool Keith doesn't need a chorus, then I don't need a conclusion. Yeah, that's poor writing.


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