Review: Corner Soul – Emergency Faith

As music has become more readily accessible to the masses via streaming, and the wider availability of recording software, a welcome side-effect has come about in the gradual whittling away of genre-barriers. This is not to say that straight-ahead rock, hip-hop, electronica, country, et al no longer exist; far from it. Alongside more traditional sounds, this freer approach has generated some truly fascinating amalgamations of sounds, and has given rise to a sort of devil-may-care attitude towards songwriting that is incredibly refreshing, and can only generate positive results.

On a local level, few acts personify this cavalier attitude of throwing caution to the wind better than Lowell’s own Corner Soul. Perhaps best known for their wildcard presence during 2019’s Rock & Roll Rumble, the enigmatic foursome produce a sound that rapidly dips in and out of genres like a hummingbird flittering from flower to flower. On previous releases they have have dabbled in realms of noise rock, experimental hip-hop, psychedelia, garage, breakbeat, and glitchy electronic R&B, often with only two recurring motifs to connect them: singer/guitarist Tom O’Donnell‘s soulful croon, and an aesthetic absolutely soaked in shimmering glam imagery.

Their fourth full-length release, Emergency Faith, comes courtesy of Corner Soul’s own Temporary Records label. Featuring many songs written just before the COVID-19 lockdown, Emergency Faith was very nearly shelved amidst the initial panic that ensued across Massachusetts. Ultimately however, the band found new meaning and profundity in these tracks, built around O’Donnell’s abstract, yet highly vivid and poetic lyrics.

In the end it’s an incredibly good thing that Emergency Faith wasn’t shelved; it contains some of the most experimental and progressive material in Corner Soul’s already highly impressionistic discography. Eleven tracks worth of glittering urban sprawl that captures their classic sound, (I realize the folly in saying that about an act that has been so nimble in jumping from sound to sound) while wandering into brand new ones. Still there are the bustling glam-drenched fuzz-funk, garage-hop, and noise rock of previous outings, now venturing into sleazy discotheques, UK garage bordellos, and pounding industrial power ballads, all while never sacrificing the musique concrete-like atmospherics of a city in dysfunction.

On the album’s BandCamp page the description for the record reads “Laughing at the thought of living well. Finding new ways to outlast our own private histories and escape our certain fate.” Such a sentiment feels all too appropriate to our socially distant times locked down from the world, and perfectly encapsulates the album’s central themes of empowerment and resilience. During this quarantine there’s been a massive influx of moody and isolated material from local scenes all across New England, much less just Lowell. So of course it would be Corner Soul, a group who have specialized so brilliantly in coating inner-city abrasiveness with coats of sparkling glam-paint, that sees light at the end of an increasingly treacherous tunnel, with a record that’s not so much psychedelic, but damn near hallucinogenic.

FFO: Psych-Soul Era Marvin Gaye, Talking Heads, DJ Shadow, Brian Eno, Hands 3

Key Track: “Everything Hits At Once”