East River Pipe’s Nontrivial Things: David Bowie’s “Low”

Stoutly refusing to record his passionate songs under anything less than his own terms (in his New Jersey home on a TASCAM MiniStudio), F.M. Cornog, under the name East River Pipe, has released seven albums since 1994 that can stand toe-to-toe with anything by your favorite indie rockers over the past 20 years. Although working full-time at the local Home Depot and raising a daughter with his wife may have curtailed Cornog’s recording time somewhat, the quality of the finished product remains unchanged. ERP’s latest, We Live In Rented Rooms (Merge), is further testimony to a man who refuses to play the rock-star game (form a band, tour, do photo shoots, etc.) and has come out the other side with a brilliant body of work—and with his soul intact. Cornog will be guest editing all week. Read our brand new Q&A with him.

Cornog: Aside from the Ramones, I didn’t listen to a lot of punk rock. I listened to a lot of Television, but Television wasn’t a punk band. Kraftwerk’s Trans-Europe Express had pretty much taken me off in a different listening direction. After Kraftwerk came David Bowie‘s Low, the first album of his “Berlin trilogy,” which also included “Heroes” and Lodger. Low was a big artistic move, even for a risk-taker like Bowie. More than half of the album consists of slow, sometimes mournful, sometimes beautiful, sometimes ominous-sounding instrumental pieces. The more conventional songs had a closed-off, claustrophobic feel. The lyrics were surreal and haiku-like. Listen to “Always Crashing In The Same Car”: Brian Eno’s burbling, swirling synthesiser, Bowie’s half-awake vocal, the theme of repeated failure, Ricky Gardiner’s lead-guitar work and co-producer Tony Visconti’s cavernous drum sound. A groundbreaking album. One of my top-five albums of all-time.