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East River Pipe - Garbageheads On Endless Stun

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Artist: East River Pipe

Album: Garbageheads On Endless Stun

Label: Merge

Review date: Sep. 3, 2003

What's Good About New Jersey and Human Suffering

By the time Springsteen completed his spiritual relocation to the Heartland, all the creepy, introverted, timecard-punchin’ Jersey vets had sewn seedlings. By the time (mid-’99) that East River Pipe one-man show F. M. Cornog dropped his masterpiece The Gasoline Age, those seedlings had grown into a full-on generation of scab-pickin’, doped-up, sexually vexed ‘n’ perplexed, DOOMED Jersey trash.

An East River Pipe tune casts the same sort of light on mundane, selfish confusion that the purple neon at Lloyd’s casts on the dumpster behind an adjacent abortion clinic: That is, the sort of light that can summon a certain epiphany if you’ve logged too many hours in Jersey strip mall parking lots. Cornog could’ve been, and still could be, the Bukowskian spokesman-cum-scapegoat for all that futility. Having spokespeople is a stupid idea, though, so let’s rap about the new record without recourse to any of that jazz.

The Gasoline Age is a different record from Garbageheads On Endless Stun the same way driving cross-country on the Interstate for under $100 total differs from drifting in and out of a blurry fever dream, lying sweaty beside someone you always love and also, well, hate right this minute. Age is a record about the industrial US; Stun is more solipsis… uh, “personal.” Age’s crooked lemon dealers, joyriding stoners, intellectually bankrupt trustfundies and traumatized gamblers were as simultaneously vivid and common as your allergies. They're folks, and the songs introduce you. Stun’s streetwalkers, millionaires and “Monumental Freaks” remain sketchy abstractions; only the dishonest lovers and sundry depressives who get their turns on the mic ever come to life. Age was about observations; Stun is about holding the shit inside until your stomach churns, which tends to dehumanize the people you happen to observe.

If you're lucky, you'll meet a lot of interesting characters in your life and hear about a few more. But at day’s end, you're going to have to negotiate sealed-in-skin self-absorption one way or another, and both experiences are equally valid for purposes of a guitar pop record. Let’s just say Garbageheads On Endless Stun is “more woozy” than The Gasoline Age, a bit of a throwback to the fluorescent-lit hangover that was the ’96 ERP breakthrough Mel.

If there’s a reason to put up with the sort of despair that lurks under every East River Pipe record like radon in the ’burbs, it’s Cornog’s effortless blend of everything that was good about the early Byrds with everything that remains good about the slow songs on Pet Shop Boys’ Very. It’s, in a word, the tunes. Which wouldn’t be anything special outside of their contrast with the despair, a contrast that makes me physically shudder on occasion. Which, in the Cartesian Circle that is my zeal for the music of East River Pipe, makes the despair necessary. So that’s why there must be suffering in the world, and you’d best go buy this album before it all starts to seem pointless.

By Emerson Dameron

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