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,
(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
"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
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"
"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,
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."