by Ben Shine
Critics of streaming music services may say that the marriage of technology and sound is the full-length album's death knell. But the LP is alive and well in my living room. I obsess over albums from start to finish. I often fixate on a record and listen to it until I have learned every lyric, drum fill, bridge, solo and melody, studied the liner notes in full, and completed my Internet research. And I recently found a new platter to fill my hours and mind with dedicated thought and analysis.
I learned about Sir Deja Doog's Love Coffin for my Halloween playlist post (thanks to Rob Peoni's recommendation), but even after Thanksgiving, I haven't stopped listening to it. Life hasn't been the same ever since I picked it up on vinyl -- for me, my son, my wife or anyone in the houses that abut our property. Love Coffin is a concept album, of the weirdest order, and it's not only renewed my enthusiasm for Bloomington-based music but also reminded me of why I'm such a sucker for a concept album.
My appreciation for the dedicated storytelling and stylized approach of the form goes back a long while. I like it when musicians stay on that perfect path, when they hew closely to a theme, and make an album that works more like a novel than a collection of short stories. Yes, I may love Raymond Carver and The White Album, but a fully realized, in-depth rumination on a topic delights me. Cases in point: Flaming Lips' The Soft Bulletin, Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon, Serge Gainsbourg's History of Melody Nelson, and Of Montreal's Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer?
One of my favorite things about concept albums is that they often provide artists with creative license to get pretty weird. Doog Aloog AKA Sir Deja Doog AKA Eric Alexander produced Love Coffin right before he underwent treatment for a brain tumor. (You can get a sense of the collaborative and perhaps abusive relationship between these identities in Jeff Napier's must-read story about the album on Musical Family Tree.) The album was described in its own promo materials as being a sonic cocktail that blends Addams Family music, Roky Erickson and Leonard Cohen, but I also hear Velvet Underground's dirges and reverb-tinged 1960s garage rock and R&B. And then, the lyrics cover their own varied territory -- nearly Victorian turns of phrase that loop through flipped-on-its-head religious imagery, the Marquis de Sade, Greek mythology, death, humor and Rhino's all ages music club -- in a stylized croon.
And unapologetic about it.
And it's so great.
Love Coffin is an essential album of 2014 and of Indiana music. If I made year-end lists, it would be at the top. Disconcerting and seemingly affected at first, perhaps, but at its core, this is a complete piece of well-executed songwriting and musicianship. The production is perfectly matched to the tone and approach of the songs. And it just goes for it -- no holding back, no worrying about self-serious introspective intensity. There is a pureness in its inauthenticity that makes it maybe more honest, more direct, more real than a guy with a guitar writing about heartbreak.
But let's go back to those digital landscape naysayers who are wringing their worried hands over the single-to-single, automated suggestion tunnel that online listening is allegedly fostering. My experience with Love Coffin runs counter to all their worries, and I think it proves that there's still plenty of room for an old-school music experience in the contemporary age. I heard about it from a friend, not from a robot who thought I'd like it. I listened to it online first via Bandcamp, but I listened to the whole album, and that made me decide that I wanted -- no, that I needed -- the vinyl release. (If I still had a tape deck, I would have seriously considered the sold-out-way-before-I-heard-about-it cassette release from Holy Infinite Freedom Revival.) It's a small release, without paid ads or similar connection-boosting supports, a gem that emerged from the commercial morass. And I listen to the whole album, and I listen to it a lot.
The classic listening experience is not dead. In fact, it's pretty easy to find, if you look for it. That said, do you happen to have a gem that deserves more exposure? Share it in the comments below. I'm all ears.