Greg Osby
Spotlight 16

Leila Abdul-Rauf
James Blackshaw
David Borden
Build Buildings
Corey Dargel
Tom Flaherty
Fogh Depot
Bjørn Fongaard
Nick Gill
Chihei Hatakeyama
High aura'd & Mike Shiflet
Map 165
Maranha & Espvall
Missy Mazzoli
Jonas Munk
Pearson Sound
Michael Price
PRISM Quartet
Michael Robinson
Sankt Otten
The Sebastians
Sigtryggur Sigmarsson
Matteo Sommacal
Sphäre Sechs
To Destroy A City
Tudor Acid
Mark Vernon
Michael Vincent Waller

Compilations / Mixes
Supafunkanova Vol. 2

EPs / Cassettes / DVDs / Mini-Albums / Singles
Alex Agore
Aux Field
Future Ghost
Jim Haynes
Sacco / Lapiana
Marshall Watson

Corey Dargel: OK It's Not OK
New Amsterdam Records

OK It's Not OK, the latest collection by idiosyncratic singer-songwriter Corey Dargel, can be assessed on multiple grounds, from its musical and visual presentation to the quality of its songwriting and lyrics. As far as its visual side is concerned, the release sports one of the least flattering cover illustrations I've seen, but thankfully nothing else about the fourteen-song project is as unappetizing.

That's not to say that Dargel's follow-up to 2010's double album of chamber pop songs Someone Will Take Care of Me is free of flaws. But let's not get ahead of ourselves; instead, we'll deal with each facet of the album in turn. To begin with, Dargel's an inventive wordsmith, and his carefully considered lyric writing is one of the most ear-catching things about the recording. The opening lines are indicative of the tone: “Let me be as deferential / As you want me to be / Say goodbye to the inconsequential / Nonessential parts of me.” Wordplay figures throughout (“You can't possibly believe it's imperative / That everything be comparative / It's not exactly progressive / To be passive-aggressive”), and the words benefit from Dargel's clear vocal delivery. And though self-doubt, alienation, and depression (“It's not a disguise / My vacant stare / Look into my eyes / There's nothing there”) are prominent themes, such morose subject matter is offset by the sunny tone of the songs and the effervescence of the playing. The lyrics aren't entirely bereft of hope, either, as shown by words in the closing song “Surely I Can Rebuild You”: “If I gathered everything you created / Every little gift that survives you / Put them all in the same place and waited / Wouldn't that be enough to revive you.”

Drawing from pop, folk, classical, and rock genres, the songs themselves aren't unappealing, though the ones that work best are those that are simpler in construction; “There's Nothing There,” “Upside Down,” and “Until She Doesn't” are good examples of catchy songs that satisfyingly blend words and music. At the other end of the spectrum are ones that are excessively complex (e.g., “Slow Down”), and in such cases the songs lose definition and the material is less successful.

As mentioned, the album significantly benefits from the musicians Dargel recruited, namely violinist Cornelius Dufallo, (electric and acoustic) guitarist James Moore, bassist Eleonore Oppenheim, and keyboardist Wil Smith; Dufallo's contributions in particular stand out (see “The Opposite of Love,” “The Saddest Excuses,” and “Surely I Can Rebuild You”) and are often the best thing about the song in question. Dargel himself contributes synths and drum machines, and it's the latter that is another misstep. The playing of the four guest musicians would have been far better complemented by a live drummer as opposed to programmed drum-machine patterns. The largely acoustic arrangement heard in “Do You Have Any Reactions At All,” for example, would have been better served by a more natural drum sound than the one featured, and in other songs, the sensitive playing of the live musicians is undercut by the drum machine's crude sound. What we're left with, then, is an engaging but imperfect set of art-pop from a singer-songwriter whose work is both unusual and distinctive. Even with its flaws accounted for, the album still makes a strong case for Dargel's gifts as a lyricist and composer.

March 2015