Soul Coughing Cut Loose In Studio For New LP

Experimental NYC-rockers expand their sound into techno and abstract noise on latest effort.

Not all songwriters keep bankers' hours; some rise at first light, sitting down to corral their

thoughts and form them into coherent songs.

M. "Michael" Doughty is not among them.

"I'd have been wise to have gotten into the kind of writing style where I get up in the

morning and sit at a keyboard and churn out five or seven pages," the 28-year-old lead

singer of experimental, New York band Soul Coughing said.

Instead, Doughty did just about everything, and anything, but sit down at a word

processor and collect his thoughts for the group's third album, El Oso, which was

released Tuesday.

As it is, though, the singer said, he often spends a few hours in front of the television, with little

more than a line or two to show for his work when he rises. "I just have notebooks and

notebooks of stuff and I sort-of hold an augury stick over it and try to find a vague threat of

a theme," he said. "It's sort-of tortuous, actually."

The result are songs such as the album-opening


(RealAudio excerpt), a hypnotic track with a metronome-beat and the chorus, "I'm rollin'/

I'm rollin'/ I'm rollin/ I'm rollin', ah." The song, one of several on which the band augments

its jazz-rock sound with a more beat-heavy vibe, is otherwise littered with Doughty's

signature stream-of-consciousness lyrics about amplifiers, getting a "tight tension on"

and "tripping on the boom bap etymological."

If any theme can be detected, it's that Doughty sometimes has the attention span of a

hyperactive child in a hyper-literate adult's body.

The art-rock/poetry/hip-hop group -- which also includes drummer Yuval Gabay, bassist

Sebastian Steinberg and keyboardist M'ark de Gli Antoni -- expands its sound on the

album with more techno-style jungle beats and abstract musical backgrounds, while still

offering up healthy doses of the abstract-expressionist scat poetry that informed its first

two albums, 1994's Ruby Vroom and 1996's Irresistible Bliss.

Just as Doughty experimented with more circular, repetitive lyrical ideas on songs such

as the yo-yoing, bottom-heavy


(RealAudio excerpt), drummer Gabay said he also felt free to subtly tweak the

band's sound this time around.

In addition to bringing his fascination with techno jungle beats to songs such as "Blame"

and "The Incumbent," Gabay said he played around with producing gut-rumbling bass

beats to fatten up the group's sound.

"I wanted to go away from not having enough bass," Gabay, 35, said of songs such as

the teeth-rattling "Miss the Girl" and "Misinformed." "I wanted more and different kinds of

bass, especially more subsonic bass, that 'shake your jaw' bass."

Like Doughty's by-hook-or-crook lyrical style, though, Gabay said the actual formation of

his "fat-ass bass" style was somewhat of a happy accident.

"On a song like 'So Far I Have Not Found the Science,' that was a combo of a really

cheap recording on a four-track and a real studio sound that we tried to make even

stupider sounding than it was to create a more extreme sound," Gabay said.

The acoustic track, on which Doughty's vocals are pinched and robotic-sounding one

minute and jousting with laser sounds the next, is a mix of sampled and live music

Gabay said the band pieced together with producer Tchad Blake.

"One of the pleasures of working with Tchad," Gabay said, "is that he has got a sh--load

of instruments laying around his studio. Everything from toy instruments to all kinds of

percussion and old keyboards."

If you listen, you can hear some of those random instruments in "Rolling," on which

Gabay said he played toy bells, Doughty played toy piano and Blake played a shaker

that the drummer said may have contained somebody's ashes.

"Now that's freaky," Gabay said.