Soul Coughing

  • Soul Coughing
  • Ruby Vroom (Slash) 1994 
  • Irrestistible Bliss (Slash/Warner Bros.) 1996 
  • El Oso (Warner Bros.) 1998 

In theory, few musical propositions are less savory than lily-white wanna-beats “branching out” to flex a few alterna-rap muscles, but in practice, it can work out — provided the musicians involved carefully circumvent minstrelsy. This New York foursome recognizes that none of its personnel is from the ‘hood, even as it asserts its right to use hip-hop constructs as a foundation for what frontman M. (Michael) Doughty has dubbed “deep slacker jazz.” Ruby Vroom, an unusually well-realized debut, lives up to the jazz portion of that claim, thanks in large part to the graceful, elastic finger-popping rhythms instilled by upright bassist Sebastian Steinberg and drummer Yuval Gabay (both of whom cut their teeth on the city’s experimental music scene). Those unflagging beats — along with sampler wiz M’ark de Gli Antoni’s brimming quiver of musique concrète, cartoon themes and out-and-out skronk — provide a foil for Doughty’s sometimes surreal, sometimes grittily noir blank verse. When he strives for humor (as on “Casiotone Nation”), the reformed rock critic has an appealingly biting wit; when he wants to hustle up some atmosphere (like the Beckett-meets-Raymond Chandler “Screenwriter’s Blues”), he can practically make you taste the bar-room floor.

On Irresistible Bliss, Doughty sacrifices some B-boy accouterments and plants his feet more firmly in beatnik territory in both message (a more socially conscious tone is set by songs like “White Girl”) and medium (his percussive couplet lobs are, at times, straight outta Ginsberg). The band adapts to Doughty’s whims with a more abstract — though still groove-based — sound that spotlights de Gli Antoni’s capering, which proves most effective on “Super Bon Bon” and “Soundtrack to Mary,” a rare opportunity for Doughty to actually sing (after a fashion).

[Deborah Sprague]

See also: Marc Ribot, John Zorn