East River Pipe

  • East River Pipe
  • Point of Memory [tape] (Hell Gate) 1990 
  • I Used to Be Kid Colgate [tape] (Hell Gate) 1991 
  • Goodbye California (UK Sarah) 1993 
  • Poor Fricky (UK Sarah) 1994  (Merge) 1995 
  • Shining Hours in a Can (Ajax) 1994 
  • Mel (Merge) 1996 

New York’s Fred M. Cornog, who records under the nom de 8-track East River Pipe, is a lo-fi auteur by dint of circumstance alone. Despite its low-budget setting, his opulent pop is more in line with Brian Wilson’s isolationist period — or even Phil Spector’s monomania-than any contemporary bedsit poet. Not that he isn’t given over to personal catharsis: Cornog’s tortured adolescence was scarring enough that rather than lead him to more typical grad-school enmity, it dropped him to rock bottom. Homeless and alcoholic, he ended up living in the Hoboken train station at one point — an experience he never explicitly addresses as East River Pipe, but that colors much of Cornog’s work.

The fifteen-song Shining Hours in a Can, which collects several years’ worth of singles released on Hell Gate, a label operated out of an Astoria, Queens, apartment by Cornog and his companion, Barbara Powers, can be seen as either an unbroken wash of melancholy beauty or an elaborate construct of pop impressions, each more soul-stirring than the one before. The autumnal “Make a Deal With the City” (1993) exudes eloquent resignation; “Axl or Iggy” (1991) brings genuine pathos to the notion of pursuing the rock-star myth. Considering that Cornog crafted these songs alone in a “studio” that takes up one corner of his living room, they’re invested with a remarkable lushness. Poor Fricky stays the course both in medium (that home studio again) and message (there’s beauty to be found in the most unanticipated places). From the pastel-dyed pony depicted on the cover to the beaten-but-not-broken tone that seeps from the dreamy “Bring on the Loser” and “Here We Go,” Cornog will make you think twice about the things (and people) that fall between the cracks.

[Deborah Sprague]

See also: Lambchop