Office Culture / Big Time Things / Northern Spy Records – By Cal Gibson

Super review by Cal Gibson, of The Secret Soul Society and Scruffy Soul Recordings.

Third album in for Brooklyn’s literate, louche, laidback troubadors, Office Culture, and it’s another softly-spoken delight – warm, comforting, clever – the perfect autumnal companion. Plenty of echoes from the elders: Donald Fagen‘s in there for sure, offering up sardonic bon mots. Vocalist Winston Cook-Wilson shares a similar vocal range to Bill Callahan, and the eloquent soul-jazz stylings call to mind Hejira-era Joni Mitchell. Yes people, it really is that good.

The title cut is a boom-bap chiller thriller: story-time vocals spin around the refrain, ‘Stop I feel nervous….seems like big time things are bothering both of us.’ This is New Yorican song-making par excellence: a sideways glance at modern life, harmonically pleasing and easy on the ear but engaging the brain at all points. Placid pop for the po-faced, perfectly juxtaposed with an underlying soulful warmth.

Timing is shored up with strings: another wordy romp through chamber-pop gone askew. You go back to the old Woody Guthrie quote that the band have employed before – ‘Take it easy, but take it’ – and you can see how apposite it is in relation to this set of loopy love songs. There’s a world view on show here that’s seen it all before and yet can’t shy away from another look: the string coda drops the vocals and rides you out on a tide of regret. Beautiful.

If you’re feeling a little heartsick at the parlous state of the world, this album comes on like a soul-healer. Elegance is all Rhodes and poets and kings: ‘It was our parents’ generation, we should have remembered to call…..I only want you to be happy.’ There it is: the simplest of wishes but maybe the hardest to attain. Elsewhere is the great line: ‘Everybody’s got a friend they never call’ and they’ve nailed it again. These are songs imbued with emotional intelligence and empathetic vibes.

A Word wraps things up with another extended meditation on existence: the quandary we all find ourselves trying to navigate, no one any the wiser but looking to artists to help us try and figure it all out. ‘Comfort me, tell me there’s things I cannot see’, runs the lyric, and then: ‘There isn’t a word for it….there isn’t a word for it.’ There isn’t, but in trying to tackle the un-nameable, Office Culture elevate themselves above the everyday – this is art wrapped up in soul with a side-order of hard-won life knowledge, and it’s fantastic. It’s wonderfully realised, musically poised, full of stories, full of life, full of love. A supreme achievement indeed: a classic album to join the canon. Love it.

Office Culture - Big Time Things

Office Culture’s  Big Time Things is out now, on Northern Spy Records. 

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