Did you ever take a few minutes to browse your records or CDs and take a look at the number of record labels represented? Chances are there are quite a few. Over time you get to know certain labels pretty well; they become old friends, you know their history and you don’t hold it against them, in fact, you revel in it. Over time you realize that the labels who weathered many storms of musical trends have a pretty amazing depth to their artist roster. Every label that achieves this status also has one or two artists on that list who consistently release great stuff to little or no fanfare. In the case of the now mighty Merge Records, East River Pipe is that band.
F.M. Cornog is the force behind East River Pipe. For decades Cornog recorded East River Pipe songs at home on his TASCAM mini-studio and continues to do so on his latest album, We Live In Rented Rooms. And it’s not just the recording equipment that remains simple; East River Pipe’s songs are just as simple as they were on Poor Fricky, the band’s Merge debut from 1995. Cornog’s melancholy melodies echo through the empty spaces left strategically, and almost invisibly, throughout these songs. In this case space is a perfect companion for Cornog’s songs, allowing each phrase to hang in the air a fraction of a second longer and cementing the perfect mood.
Lyrically, an East River Pipe song is simple and efficient; however, the subject matter is typically sad, hopeless, or defeated. If you glance through the song titles from We Live In Rented Rooms you see songs like “The Flames Are Coming Back,” “Payback Time,” “Backroom Deals” and “Cold Ground.” Even the titles are direct, honest, and lean toward the darker side of life. That being said, many of these songs are destined to become classics that can stand proudly beside past East River Pipe gems like “Make a Deal With the City,” “Metal Detector,” and “Kill the Action.”
Why would you ever want to subject yourself to a mope-fest like this? Easy. East River Pipe albums are beautiful, haunting and completely engaging affairs. The listener is gently drawn into Cornog’s world, essentially the underbelly of society, and gets a guided tour. There, not only do we see the gravity of the situation, but we see the beauty that lies deep inside the darkest places. We Live In Rented Rooms is another fantastic installment in the East River Pipe catalog. These songs are sad sing-a-longs, perfect for reflecting on your personal disappointments and realizing that there might be a silver lining in there somewhere.
We Live In Rented Rooms is out now. Buy it at Merge.