LETTING DEAD DOGS LIE
The new album from Los Angeles based singer-songwriter Corey Landis Therapy Dog has all the makings of a classic break-up record. It’s an introspective song-cycle for anyone who’s ever been damaged or dumped. A rainy-day record to check in with now and again, maybe even obsess over. Soaked in the kind of atmospheric resignation that made Springsteen’s Nebraska a timeless record, Therapy Dog is Landis’ fourth and strongest full-album release to date – and this is the first time Landis has pressed the music to wax. In addition to the downloadable version, there is a limited edition 12” vinyl available on Urban Myth Recordings, the quirky singer-songwriter collective founded by Canadian recording artist Dan Bryk.
Landis self-produced Therapy Dog, writing and recording nine songs from his living room in Silverlake over a staggering four month period from September to December 2012. The songs are urgent and intimate, at times painfully sincere, and peppered with wry observations like: “What you’re doing with him / I’m doing with gin / the difference of course is / the next day / I can take an aspirin,” from the album’s closing track: “Honey I’m Home.”
Therapy Dog was performed on Landis’ old Baldwin Acrosonic Piano, the kind he grew up playing in community halls as a boy in Ohio. “Every time the piano tuner shows up,” grumbles Landis, “he tells me to retire the thing.” The recording was done on an obsolete 4-track cassette recorder borrowed from fellow Anti-Folk artist Matthew Quinet from Austin, TX – the same model Tascam 4-Track Cassette Recorder used to record the aforementioned Nebraska.
The hush of magnetic tape adds to the vintage sound of Landis’ piano so much so that his working title for the album was Blood On The 4-Tracks – a nod to Bob Dylan’s classic: Blood On The Tracks. But Landis’ craft and sensibilities are more in the realm of post-pop masterpieces such as Lindsey Buckingham’s Under The Skin and Ben Folds Five’s Whatever And Ever Amen.
The album’s opener is the atmospheric “Natural Disaster.” The song compares a woman’s emotional path of destruction to an earthquake, a wildfire, a cyclone, and a tsunami. In each chorus Landis warns, “And me / I can’t save you all,” as the music rises, escaping on a weather balloon floating precariously above of the atmosphere. Evidently annihilation brings with it a strange euphoria.
The second track “Leaving Everyone” begins with the foreboding lyrics: “I’m worried my head is next on the chopping block / as I see the others roll on by.” The song somberly sets the scene of a group of friends whose relationships are all hitting the skids at the same time. “Everybody’s leaving everyone,” muses the central character, growing doubtful about
his own situation. He admits, “Your crystal ball got cracked somehow / and all its data has been called into question,” which is a transformative lyric taking what was magical and turning it practical.
The title track “Therapy Dog” follows. It is a sobering moment for the record as it is a song about standing up for one’s self. It carries the tradition of classic Country storytelling, with lyrics suitable for a female country star – à la Tammy Wynette. “I won’t be your therapy dog / I’m just not going to reach for your hand anymore / I just want to know I’m worth fighting for / should I be / all that and more / well I should / shouldn’t I?” Landis switches to acoustic guitar for the track, adding light touches on trumpet. It is a song of acceptance more than of resignation. It feels robust and satisfied in spite of hard circumstances. The title track is the fulcrum on which the album hangs its burdens.
The fourth track “Wrong About Me” is the tearjerker. Stripped down to just piano and voice, Landis tenderly expresses the sorrow of unrequited love. It isn’t about mere infatuation, but about the agonizingly gradual realization over a long-term relationship that it was never truly substantiated by the other person. “You’ve got the best view / and you’re wrong about me / I’m right for you,” he pleads. The song is one of Landis’ most vulnerable performances, reminiscent of Rufus Wainwright’s “Candles” with touches of a breaking falsetto on par with Coldplay’s Chris Martin – it’s an absolutely beautiful track.
Next is “After The Coffee,” a reluctant anthem to domesticity. Sung ironically over a church-organ drone, complete with an angelic choir ascending over snare hits that would make (pre-murderous) Phil Spector proud, Landis celebrates the valor of husbandly duties with lyrics like: “I will keep the home-fires burning / and I will do the dog’s de-worming,” all of which will get done sometime After The Coffee of course.
The sixth track brings a little levity to the song-cycle. “Airport” is a tongue-in-cheek pop song with a healthy “good-riddance” point of view about certain break-ups. In a sigh of relief Landis sings, “I’m crying at the airport / and I realize / I’ll never be / crying at the airport / as I drop you off anymore / as I pick you up anymore.” It’s charming, satisfying, and
catchy – a perfect song to play while you awkwardly wait in the airport cell phone lot.
The remaining three tracks are among the darkest. A trilogy of sorts, they examine the onset of solitude. “Poltergeist” is a chilling depiction of what it’s like to be haunted by the memory of someone. In ¾ time, it is a waltz with the cobwebs. “Even though I can’t face you / I haven’t replaced you,” admits the lonely figure at the song’s center. “Before the corpse is even iced / you’re a poltergeist.” The idea is somewhat macabre, but the sentiment is bittersweet: some regrets are irresistible to hold on to.
Going deeper into the shadows, “Be Nice To Me” is the most lyrically
challenging song on the album due to it’s scattered imagery and ambiguous storyline. On the surface it appears to be a somewhat benign request for forgiveness. But the central figure is disturbed and suffering from a loss. Upon closer listening, there is a trauma that this person is replaying in their mind: “Wipe the blood off the hood / burry the rag / the river is overflowing.” This person also seems to confuse sexual imagery with images of renewal: “Do a dance for me / make it rain / say a prayer for me / be a good neighbor / do it just for fun.” It is a complicated song that provides no definite answers. It is even unclear by the song’s end if the trauma is an actual/physical one, or only emotional and implied. In context to the album as a whole, it seems to illustrate the troubling thoughts of someone who has been neglected by love, so they indulge in destructive fantasies and escapist pleasures, but by outward appearances seem normal – someone who would be considered a classic case of “damaged goods.”
Closing the album is the country tinged “Honey, I’m Home”, which brings Therapy Dog to as happy an ending as one could hope for, and brings the last three songs back out of the woods. “Honey, I’m Home” is the one-two- punch of a guy who’s not only been kicked out of his house, but then has to experience witnessing his replacement moving in so quickly. The song is poignant, funny, and Randy Newman-esque. Landis makes the kind of observations you’d expect from one of the whisky-soaked characters on Newman’s Good Old Boys. “Your address on his checks / I admit left me perplexed,” he shrugs, “you move faster than the postal service / don’t ‘cha know?” It’s a painful acquiescence, but not before he gets a few last words in otherwise. “He’s just a juice cleanse / or a band-aid on Hoover Damn,” smirks our hero as he saunters off down the driveway he paved but never got to enjoy. His only consolation is that she’ll probably mess this one up too.
Therapy Dog is one of those albums that’ll stay with you, one that rewards repeated listening. It feels like Landis has earned every lyric on the record, and he sings with the grit of someone who’s lived it. He possesses an everyman quality that belies the level of sophistication in his songwriting. Comparable to Tom Waits’ Early Years Vols. I & 2, or anything from Billy Joel’s output in the early-mid 70’s, Corey Landis has bared his soul to make a record that is equally satisfying as it is entertaining.