"We Live In Rented Rooms." East River Pipe. New Jersey's F.M. Cornog (aka East River Pipe) spent a good part of his adult life drifting aimlessly as a self-proclaimed "garbage-head," a habitual drug and alcohol abuser who drove his life into an abyss he was certain he'd never get out of.
Ending up homeless and sleeping on park benches and in train stations, he was rescued by Hell Gate label owner Barbara Powers, the woman who encouraged Cornog to clean up and pursue music. Years later, the two are happily married with a young daughter and a pet dog, with Cornog holding down a full-time job selling tile for a Home Depot.
Every few years, Cornog hunkers down in his modest home studio and crafts shimmering guitar-pop masterworks, aching mini-opuses that fuse Television's shimmering fretwork and Springsteen's blue-collar realism to his gritty tales of drifters, drug addicts and gamblers.
His latest, "We Live In Rented Rooms," is a return to form after his last album, 2006's disappointing "What Are You On?"
"Rented Rooms" starts with the clock-puncher blues of "Backroom Deals," a song that perfectly encapsulates the feeling of floundering as a faceless cog and the beaten resignation that goes with it.
"Summer Boy" is a synth-driven chronicle of a tossed-aside and aging boy-toy coming to the end of his too-brief run, and "Tommy Made Movie" finds a would-be auteur too locked inside his head to bang out a script, so he delves into a lonely obsession with Internet porn.
"When You Were Doing Cocaine" is a piano ballad of a deadbeat lamenting the days when an eight ball could buy him companionship for an evening and a guarantee it would be gone by the next day.
Cornog's snapshots of American life lived in the margins feels completely authentic, and his gorgeous melodies and compositional skills as a producer give the tracks a dramatic emotional lift that provides these various sad sacks an empathetic platform.
Cornog, who refuses to tour and still enjoys a sweetheart contract with mega-indie Merge, will never reach the heights of labelmates Arcade Fire, or enjoy a profile anywhere near as high as fans such as David Byrne.
Almost 20 years into a side career that nearly never happened, East River Pipe has quietly racked up a catalog full of some of indie rock's best and sadly unheard gems. Hopefully "We Live In Rented Rooms" will have more listeners paying attention to this quietly gifted songwriter.