Livejournal launched in 1999 and enabled a disgusting narcissism that would eventually lead to the emotional instability that is updating your Facebook status and tweeting messages about funny bumper stickers and the close proximity of your ex. Somehow, every 19-year-old girl became Anais Nin, a personality worthy of having a sexual diary “published” for the perusal of friends.
I’m not a hater entirely, though. For every 1,000 or so self-absorbed college students that blog about their one-night stands in the most cliché and uninteresting ways (a number I don’t exclude myself from), one person somewhere is making an actual significant artistic statement that on some level balances the scale. For some artists, the diary format and the immediacy of the day can provide enlightenment and beauty in ways that artistic refining could never do.
Cole is one of these individuals. His new tape, “Gifts,” the first release of fledgling label Life’s Blood Flows, embraces the album as a sketchbook. He dives around and experiments, sometimes only half-forming songs before dumping them to jump to the next tune. At times, he provides microfunk experiments, but other songs are confessional acoustic numbers built on the foundation laid by fellow West Coasters like Little Wings, Karl Blau or The Microphones.
So, why is his song sketch better than your Flickr stream? Honesty. Perhaps the most crippling thing about blogging and Facebooking and tweeting is the demand for reaction, the chessboard aspect of finding love and respect through well-placed, humorous YouTube links and pleas for pity. None of that exists inside Cole’s album; it is true to the diary nature of the whole affair. Too frequently, we forget that diaries initially were places of confidence, places for us to be comfortable exploring our own emotions in ways we would never show to others.
The album becomes arresting because of this. It never seizes and pulls to a particular emotion, but meanders through funky instrumentals and then strikes with heart-breaking honesty. It is the true diary: lengthy periods of complacency and happiness with sudden fits of anger, sadness and loneliness. It never demands an emotional reaction but simply exists as believable meander.
“Play Out” delves into a desire for freedom and comes with touches of synth, simplistic exhibits of what’s desired. In this song, there’s a wounded desire, but the song that follows is rife with anger. “Learning” is less plea and more self-assurance as the slow, bouncy beat soundtracks the demand: “Shut the fuck up, leave me alone/ Let me figure this out on my own.” And then “Prescott to San Francisco” flies back into happiness, exuberance overseeing the face of a loved one.
Listening to the album, one feels drawn through small sketches of emotions often times at odds with each other, but feels the continuity of the human behind the music. Too often, production and deliberation drains the life force and immediacy out of music. “Gifts” works because it’s honest without barrier and without a certain sort of desire to clean itself back up and produce something final. It’s an unedited diary in the right way, a rare thing to find in our era.