In Defense Of: Soul Coughing

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There's a difference between the iconic music of the 1990s and the music that marked the 1990s. The former is the historically important stuff like Nirvana's Nevermind, the music that echoed from their place in time outward, making an impact on music thereafter. The latter is the music that you associate with the decade, regardless of its actual effect or merit. For a number of reasons, Soul Coughing is one of those bands that marked the 90s and nothing else, so it's easy to see why they might fall into the category of “Not-So-Cool.” Here's why I think that happens: Their biggest hit, “Circles,” is one of those infectious melodies that, a decade removed, many people will recognize but be unable to name. But it doesn't really represent what the rest of their album El Oso sounds like, let alone the rest of their discography. Still, the easily digestible lyrics, bass and country twang stuck with people, especially those who watched Cartoon Network, driving that song into the ground. It didn't help that the band called it quits before the new millennium. With three albums, each with their own hits, spread throughout the 90s, we're inclined to build that permanent association between the decade and their music. On top of that, if you aren't going to leave a crater the way Pavement or Nirvana did, it's easy to see why people may look at “Circles” in hindsight as one of those quirky relics of the past. But being a band of their time doesn't really have to be a hit to their coolness. Because if you take a dive into their discography, you'll find something that is earnestly and truly “alternative.” They employed noise and frills that were seemingly antithetical to the jazzy underpinnings of many of their songs, but instead created an accessible sound that isn't in our ears much these days. They had the ability to turn even the clunkiest, unmusical lines like “I was once misinformed about your intentions” into hot hooks. If Soul Coughing is uncool, then I would think most of that comes from it being dated. They're not yet old enough to be retro cool, but they're no longer new enough to seem cutting edge. At their peak, they were one of the more engaging bands on the radio, with melodies and cadences that put them in the same space as contemporaries like Cake and Odelay-era Beck. Perhaps we would be talking about them in the same way if they had stuck around long enough.

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