Monday, February 14, 2011

Album Review: East River Pipe - We Live In Rented Rooms

On his seventh album, We Live In Rented Rooms, singer and songwriter FM Cornog continues to do a lot with very little.

Cornog’s patient rhythms and restrained dynamics - along with plenty of reverb - create cold echos in empty spaces. The robotic beats of a drum machine add to the chill throughout album.

At first, the music seems only to set the stage for the tragic characters in the lyrics, but some of the most gorgeous moments occur when the singing stops.

After the grim tale of a man crippled by an internet pornography addiction, the final minute of “Tommy Made a Movie” brightens and the harmonies begin to pulse. It’s hopeful and beautiful.

Cornog rations his lyrics sparingly. There are no long bits of exposition and lines are often repeated for effect. “I better get used to it,” Cornog repeats to himself on “Background Deals” until he can’t take it anymore. The melody of “Cold Ground” consists only of the words “cold ground” repeated multiple times.

We Live In Rented Rooms feels like a blue collar hymn, an incantation for the working class. At times it is powerful, but the record is marred by its plodding final moments. The last three songs drag until the album limply dies out.

This could be Cornog’s art reflecting life. The poor worker and the album start out with some fight left, but eventually break down and die whimpering. Even if that’s the case, it doesn’t change that the first and more lively half of the record is the most interesting to listen to.

We Live In Rented Rooms will be released on February 15 via Merge Records.

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