Soul Coughing Sample New Approach On Third LP

Experimental pop band adds jungle beats and abstract backdrops to signature jazzbo/hip-hop on El Oso.

For fans of experimental art-rock/poetry/hip-hop group Soul Coughing, the fact that all

four members now own samplers could have been either the best or the worst thing that

ever happened to singer M. (Michael) Doughty and his quirky band.

But the result -- as evidenced on the group's upcoming third album, El Oso (Sept.

29) -- is something in between.

For the open-minded, the new emphasis on techno-y jungle beats and abstract musical

backgrounds will be a welcome addition to the Soul Coughing canon. For adherents to

Soul Coughing's past, there are still healthy doses of abstract-expressionist scat poetry

and the band's signature uptown New York hip-hop/jazzbo stylings to go around.

Although you wouldn't necessarily know it just by listening to the album, the frantic beats,

atmospheric soundscapes and odd noises that inhabit such songs as "Blame" and

"Monster Man" are courtesy of a more wide-open recording process.

"The songwriting this time was done to beats, rather than to guitar parts, which is a big

change for us," said Doughty, 28, the band's main songwriter. "For the most part, I know

what I need beat-wise, and I know what directions the other guys tend to move in, and so

the songs were written with that in mind."

As a kind of introduction to the band's more spare, experimental sound on El Oso,

the first single,

HREF="http://www.addict.com/music/Soul_Coughing/Circles.ram">"Circles"

(RealAudio excerpt), incorporates the jazzy, boho-hipster pop feel of the group's most

accessible work, accented by a maddeningly repetitive chorus and cartoon-like

keyboard sounds.

"I think Doughty's lyrics are more like the ones on the first record," keyboardist M'ark de

Gli Antoni said. "The words are back to [being] less personal. The second record was,

lyrically, all these personal stories. And this time, [Doughty's] back to a bit more detached

wordplay and more repetition."

But just what is "Circles" about? ("I don't need to walk around in circles/ don't need to

walk around in circles/ walk around in circles/ walk around in," Doughty sings in a

monotone.) "You tell me," the singer challenged. When asked if perhaps this is a tale of a

dead-end existence, he replied that he doesn't like to dissect his own lyrics. "Right, what

you said, it's about a guy in a dead-end life, job, relationship, etc."

Also, Doughty and bassist Sebastian Steinberg, half of the group which also includes de

Gli Antoni and drummer Yuval Gabay, had picked up samplers since the recording of the

group's previous album, 1996's Irresistible Bliss.

"I was new to the more hands-on part of technology," Doughty said. "On the first record

the more dumb-assed sampling ideas were me bringing in my records and pestering

M'ark until he used them." Asked why he became more interested in sampling and using

the found sounds he's accumulated on this album, Doughty said, "I just wanted to f---

around a lot. I made a couple of bucks touring with my rock band."

Drummer Gabay said part of the process of making the album was taking the time to

experiment and have each member play his own instrument, but also stretch out to

unfamiliar territory. "We all played our own things, but we all also played a slew of other

instruments as well," Gabay said, pointing to his forays into sampling and playing analog

synthesizer. As a result, when the group hits the road in support of the new album, both

Doughty and Steinberg will be equipped with onstage sampling devices to beef up the

band's sound.

The album was recorded in multiple sessions, which began with a five-week stint starting

last October, followed by five more weeks starting in January and more time for mixing in

May. It was produced in conjunction with Soul Coughing's frequent collaborator, Tchad

Blake, and also features production by techno producer Optical on the songs "Blame"

and "The Incumbent."

The result is an effort that is much darker than either Bliss or the group's 1994

debut, Ruby Vroom. Doughty's trademark sung-talked poetic lyrics stray a bit from

the more narrative songs of the previous album and regain the repetitive,

stream-of-consciousness, scat-like feel of such Ruby Vroom songs as

HREF="http://www.addict.com/music/Soul_Coughing/Casiotone_Nation.ram">

"Casiotone Nation" (RealAudio excerpt).

"Houston" is built around a futuristic, funky keyboard and Doughty's hypnotic refrain of

"roller boogie motherf---er," while the very next song, "$300," is propelled by a frantic

jungle-like techno beat and a warped sample of a bit from comedian Chris Rock's Roll

With the New album. The group experiments with jungle beats on a number of other

songs as well, including the grinding "Monster Man" and "I Miss the Girl" -- an experiment

that can be pinned on an easily identified party: Gabay.

The drummer said he first heard the rhythmically heavy, predominantly British

techno-offshoot style in 1994 and was immediately transfixed by it. "I was digging it

[jungle] very much and I wanted to find a way to translate it to my own style," said Gabay,

35.

Amazingly, despite the often mechanical, machine-like beats on the album, Gabay said

virtually all the drums on El Oso were played live and then looped, not sampled. "I

was coming at it from a hip-hop and dancehall point of view," Gabay said, "and from that I

built my take on jungle."