Saturday, July 15, 2017

New to Me No. 3: Diane Coffee, Everybody's a Good Dog

With an assist from gravity...
Truly interesting wee act this time around…

Diane Coffee, Everybody’s a Good Dog

The Gateway Drug
Mayflower,” a 30-year-old channels the 70s. And epically.

Heard this tune last year sometime, and my happiest memory of it happened when I walked around the supermarket loudly humming/imitating the horns (thanks, earbuds!). Every time I walked past a Mexican family they turned their heads. What I value most about “Mayflower” is its essential “bigness,” its bombast, the way it makes a fella want to hold his fists to the heavens and wail along with Diane Coffee’s singer, Shaun Fleming. It runs at a good tempo and he scales the music up and down nicely – the mechanics of that bombast – and the long, strumming drives beautifully into a close with those same horns. And…scene.

I only dug up the video yesterday and…well, I wish I hadn’t. Fleming (who grow up doing voice-work for one of my kids’ favorite cartoons) looks happy as a cat in catnip in the video, but the (low?) camp in that video somehow threatens my enjoyment of it. Something in me wants that song to be, for lack of a better word, sincere...and, after clearing up some of the lyrics, it matches better than I thought. Still. Resisting.

Then again, Fleming loves hamming. If you watch him in the band's Tiny Desk Concert (ft. “Spring Breathes,” “It’s Not That Easy” and “Mayflower”), you’ll see a man who can’t help performing.

The Album
When “Spring Breathes” crashed into that guitar/drum flail after that gentle a cappella opening – and then dials it right back 15-20 seconds later – I worried that I’d picked up an infatuation. If Everybody’s a Good Dog held that level, packed in that many moods – there’s a break in the middle that listens like the happy chaos from a Disney movie set in the tropics, and then breaks into a sweet, sweet 70s glide – there would be no telling much time I’d put in trying to sort out everything I love.

That proved too tall an order (dammit!), but Diane Coffee put together one hell of an album, if one that could rely more than I appreciate on a given listener’s ear. The band hits a lot of personal sweet spots for me – a spit-polished 70s sound anchors most tracks that still brings in elements from other genres (thinking the “doo-wop” back-ups in “Tams Up”) and a dramatic tone (“Everyday” evokes Rocky Horror Picture Show with those backing vocals) – so falling for this album came with easily as hitting water falling out of a boat.

The notes above about “performing” might sound like a knock – Fleming could actually be unbearable on stage (see Tiny Desk video) – but that sensibility holds together an album that wanders around quite a bit musically. Without knowing a thing about Fleming, it’s worth asking whether he’s doing something close to inhabiting a character as he sings and writes. While the music doesn’t fly all over in terms of style/genre, each song on the album listens like a clearly distinct mood of that one character. There’s also enough going on even within each song for those moods to contain several shades of thought and feeling.

The arrangement of the music – the steady parade of shifts in tempo and volume, or even serial excursions into totally different tonal effects (see the bridge passage in “Too Much Space,” a song I only just like; also, props to the vocals in the verses) – further heightens the effect. And Fleming’s voice has more than enough range and power to ride every one of those shifts. His performance of “Mayflower” in the Tiny Desk video, where he’s got to modulate his vocals to an acoustic performance, and one where strings replace horns, gives a great demonstration of his control; the muted “wail” that follows the first chorus still raised goose bumps on my arm.

I name-dropped a healthy share of favorites throughout the above, but to name actual favorites, those would include “Spring Breathes,” “Everyday,” and the 50s-tinged ballad “Not That Easy” (and I adore the line, “I’m your lover boy coming home”). Even after playing it steadily for as far back as last September, I can still sit through “Mayflower” every single time. I can listen to just about any song on the album, really, because there’s just so goddamn much to listen for in each song. And, for what it’s worth, I believe that gives most music its longest legs.

For all the love I’m showering on this album, I can see Everybody’s a Good Dog, or even Diane Coffee as an act, putting off some people. “Specific” feels like the wrong word, but this isn’t exactly a regularly recurring sound in popular music. For all that, I’m guessing it’ll connect with anyone who needs variety to stay interested. Or people whose ears prick up at any echo of the 1970s (e.g., this guy).

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