Weird of the Day: Soul Coughing, “Bus to Beelzebub”

Soul Coughing

I know we’re not exactly digging deep with our latest Weird of the Day, but fuck it. Sometimes, when you’re having a tough week, you just need to crank a little Soul Coughing.

For all two of you readers who aren’t already familiar: Soul Coughing was a ’90s band from New York made up of singer/songwriter/latter-day beat poet Mike Doughty, vintage-jazz-and-cartoon-obsessed sampler player Mark de Gli Antoni, and the jazz-trained, hip-hop-inspired rhythm section of Sebastian Steinberg on upright bass and Yuval Gabay on drums. They met in New York’s downtown underground jazz scene in the early ’90s and managed to put out three brilliant albums of self-described “deep slacker jazz” before their conflicting musical tastes and personalities (and addictions) drove them apart in 2000.

There aren’t many bands I say this about, but if you don’t like Soul Coughing, we probably can’t be friends. Their music just ticks all the boxes for me: It’s silly but whip-smart, geeky but undeniably funky, weird but never far from a shamelessly pop sensibility (after turning solo, Doughty would cover Mary J. Blige’s “Real Love” with absolutely zero irony), full of lyrical non sequiturs and slyly manipulated samples of familiar songs by the Andrews Sisters, Howlin’ Wolf and Carl Stalling.

“Bus to Beelzebub,” off their mind-bending 1994 debut Ruby Vroom, is too dumb (lyrically speaking) to be the band’s best song, but it’s certainly among their weirdest, what with its Raymond Scott “cartoon assembly line” sample and Doughty chanting “Quadrilateral I was, now I warp like a smile” and “Yellow No. 5” over de Gli Antoni’s razor-blade organ samples and Steinberg’s relentlessly marching bass. It’s really too bad these guys all hate each other now, because in their heyday, they were a force.


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