Wednesday, May 5, 2010
Nick Corbo - Animal Names
Originally written for Inkwell Press
Sure, to Nick Corbo and other songwriters like him, spring brings with it a cargo of analogies: hope, warmth, new life, Corbo’s “thawing just in time” (“Every Song I Sing”). It also brought along his newest and longest release through American Buffalo Recordings, Animal Names.
And just as important as the sun is for stirring up the tiny microbes of chlorophyll, the tracks on Animal Names bloom and burst with the instrumentation Corbo and friends gorged them with. In a modest eight tracks, Corbo adapted some old songs and deliberately seasoned new ones with brass, keys, gang vocals and lo-fi samples. The warm bass tones in “Painted Halls,” a lonely flute warble in “The Museum of Natural History,” in “My Home Isn’t Home,” lilting keys and tides of trumpet—the shoe fits on each track, just shy of being overdone while defining a musician beyond another acoustic songwriter. His transition is best viewed in “Every Song I Sing,” a rosy acoustic ditty included on the Bird Watching in America EP. It was a track once limited to the accessory of a gang-vocal sing along, and now flourishes with bursts of trumpet, drum and howls.
Lyrically and stylistically, Conor Oberst has a hand on the shoulder of Animal Names. The fragile harmonies and stumbles of drum in “Roanoke” recall “Contrast and Compare,” the nostalgic sample of a message left by a faceless giddy girl layered with field recordings of a buzzing crowd at the end of “Rosasharn,” even an identical “to love and to be loved” (“Let’s Not Shit Ourselves”) is sung to Corbo in his memory in “The Merritt Parkway pt.2.” Then there’s the constant lyrical harping on the powerful hand of the seasons (“so I’ll dig myself a sweet farewell ‘neath the dirt and the dying leaves/and wait for the spring to come and wrap me up in the roots of her leaning trees”), states, symptomatic skeletons in the closet (“I can’t stand my own mind/America, when will we end the human war?” from a Ginsberg sample). Still, the relationship between the two songwriters isn’t a genetic one. Corbo might have what Oberst’s having at the bar, but won’t stay long enough past closing for his friend to come after work and ask about a yellow bird.
His saving grace is every song’s resolution, its suggestion of hope. No matter how celebratory the trumpet might sound, it’s never ironic. Animal Names walks with a greater levity; Corbo’s voice is less wrecked by sobs and hauntings, less spent on nights with an inch of scotch in his glass. Even in the darkest corners of the tracks like “My Home Isn’t Home,” which empties into pitchy feedback over Ginsberg’s “America,” there is still a pinhole of light from the yard—the sweet and brazen storyline of “The Museum of Natural History” picks up right after Ginsberg’s brooding lines.
It’s because of Corbo’s earnest and use-what-ya-got approach—recording in his Torrington home under the guidance of R.J. Gordon (Purchase based student producer), performing on a couple instruments on most of the tracks himself, collaborating with friends on vocals, horns and keys—that the record is able to get its sea legs and pick up an identity. And its identity is all that’s visible through the record’s transparency: his friends, influences and origins. As he writes in the liner notes, the project never would have been completed without them.
(Photos: Kellyann Petry)