“But I just can’t seem to write a song” quips singer/guitarist Michael Barthel on “Raisin Bran in the Sun,” the first offering from Brooklyn-based the Song Corporation's The Raisin Bran EP. "And I find that I’ve been holding my guitar all along / But I just can’t seem to write a song;” clocking in at six minutes, it’s almost a literal statement, if not for the fact that “Raisin Bran in the Sun” is indeed a song. But it is also a very fine song at that. Of course, not a song that could be played on the radio (by today’s “standards”) but a song that flows, ebbs, explodes, and whispers in all the places that it should. My ears are happy to report that the following two songs, “Soothing Sugar” and “The Bug,” are just as well put-together and performed with love, care, and electricity. A corporation that runs on love, care, and electricity can only be good for us all, and this particular one wishes that everyone lighten up and receive a little piece of the pie.
Pulling influences from the late `80s and early `90s, this music is layers of noise, groove, delicacy, and lots of cymbals that is unpredictable and pleasantly so. Drummer George Watson plays with heavy hits and solid time creating a perfect backdrop whether the mood is atmospheric or feedback-laden. Bassist Felipe Fernandez slides melodic lines around Watson’s drums as the guitars, courtesy of Barthel and Kristie Redfield, dance and crash right on top. Barthel’s vocal delivery is reminiscent of Mick Jones (think Big Audio Dynamite-era), spitting lots of lyrics like a cynic who finds his cynicism funny, which it is. “I voted for a dictator cos I was feeling bored / And to increase the dignity of the murderous poor…But it might be good for democracy to nationalize the malls / Talking while we’re shopping we could debate anything at all” begins and ends “The Bug.” “It is 3pm and I am watching TV / And I see an ad that must be targeted at me / And all the other people that live in New York / And write bitter little songs when they’re out of work…And I call the number, as seen on TV / It says press one for daydreams, press two for therapy” is from “Raisin Bran in the Sun,” and what this all adds to, from Barthel’s perspective, is why do we need to give up what we love or turn what we love into what we live off of? And if we do, can’t we at least have a sense of humor about it?
In between these two songs of snarled distrust is the beautiful “Soothing Sugar” (ringing with the same spirit as the Breeders), where Kristie Redfield coos indiscernably about listening to the radio and painting her nails as the accompaniment swirls and builds into an all-out splat in the speakers. The kind of splat that is of pure joy, a girl jumping around her room for no reason other than something inside her needed to stretch and shout. The surprise of Redfield’s voice next to Barthel’s is great and the compliment of one to other is one of the most exciting parts of the Song Corporation.
The production is very nice on this recording, allowing lots of space to exist and for the performance to sound like an actual performance. The editing on the lead track of “The Bug,” however, is the only decision that I wish had been discussed a little further. Editing the lead to interrupt the lead is distracting and takes away from the lyrical delivery, which is Barthel’s strongest quality as a vocalist.
And there we have it, one of many, but one that is an excellent portrait of NYC hopefuls told through the narrative of a cynical and passionate perspective. The Raisin Bran EP is a brief experience of the Song Corporation, but an experience that will hopefully be extended in a full-length LP soon, for I love to be entertained by music that’s this honest. March on and keep rocking.