F.M. Cornog, a.k.a. East River Pipe, abolishes indie rock clichés by approaching them head-on. He writes coherent lyrics and refuses to make them inaudible; he sings about the downtrodden and depressed without reducing his voice to a gravelly drawl; and his music manages to be introspective without resembling an ugly groan. He has been upending these eight-track truisms for more than a decade, and on What Are You On?
he shows himself to be just as remarkable and refreshing as he was during the Nineties lo-fi heyday. With his atmospheric keyboards, ringing guitar, and catchy consistency, he sometimes sounds like he's one production pump-up from Adult Contemporary adulation. All it would take is one call to Coldplay, whose "In My Place" could be an ERP track if it were about domestic abuse rather than a crush. Then again, it would also take a lyrical lobotomy: It's not that the radio can't handle songs about drugs the overriding subject of the album but ERP's snapshots are devoid of either moralizing or melodrama. When Cornog sings, "and if it comes down to the drugs or you, baby, we're through," he does it matter-of-factly. The exception that proves the rule is the scathing opener, "What Does T.S. Eliot Know About You?" But after that slam at druggies who want to escape into the fantastic, he continues to drolly describe their tragic environment, relief coming only from his music's pleasant jangle