Office Mecca

[Quack!Media; 2009]

Styles: pop rock
Others: Freer, post-{Good News} Modest Mouse, {Pet Sounds}-era Beach Boys, of Montreal

Although the band members may balk, it's hard not to read the opening line of Mecca as anything but autobiographical: “Woke up on a bench somewhere in Brooklyn/ With a suitcase full of Polaroids and broken glass.” It's been a wild ride for Ann Arbor's (formerly Chicago's) Office. Singer-songwriter Scott Masson created a minor masterpiece with 2005's Q&A. That little self-released record captured the attention of the national press, and the following years found Office playing South by Southwest, scoring a coveted opening slot in the Lollapalooza festival, and signing a deal with James Iha's Scratchie Records, an imprint of New Line. A Night at the Ritz, their big-time debut, should have made Office a household name, but issues over artistic control led the band to part ways with their label, and the record failed to find the audience it so richly deserved.

Fate slapped Office around a little, but even if the occasional note of disillusionment creeps in along the edges, the songs on display on Mecca show that the band is no worse off for the adversity. There are fuller arrangements only hinted at by Office's previous albums. The Modest Mouse bass-snare-one-two that characterized earlier hits like “Oh My” and “Q&A” are still present, but the music around them is markedly changed. “Enter Me, Exit You” is a prime example; the tinkling keyboard line seems to fill in the gaps between Erica Corniel's thumping drum beat rather than march in lock-step along with it. Masson also makes more extensive use of vocal harmonies throughout Mecca, whether in a conventional chorus like that of “Sleepwalking” or in the ghostly ‘ooh’s and ‘aah’s laid over “Double Penetrate the Market.” The resulting record is lush and complex, one that remains immediately accessible even as it unfolds itself through repeated listening.

Lyrically, Masson continues to spin eccentric love stories that effortlessly balance sappiness with surrealism. Hints of their major-label tribulations show up on tracks like “Trainwreck DJs” and the one-and-a-half-minute sledgehammer pop of “Dr. Drako,” but more than anything, there's a triumphal air about Mecca. Both “Ridiculous Plans” and the infectious acoustic album-closer “The Silent Parade” celebrate the band's confirmed outsider status and the creative freedom it affords them.

And they're not the only ones who should be celebrating. Quack!Media is in the process of releasing the album as an LP/CD combo, but Office have already made the entire record available for free download [here->http://ordinaryoffices.com/?page_id=2]. The recording industry may have abandoned Office on a proverbial park-bench with nothing but a suitcase full of rubble, but Mecca stands as a testament to the rest of the world that this band can build a hell of a lot out of Polaroids and broken glass. The fact that they're not afraid of giving it away for free is just icing on the cake.

1. Sticky Dew
2. Nobody Knows You
3. Ridiculous Plans
4. Enter Me, Exit You
5. Dr. Drako
6. Sleepwalking
7. Everything You've Witnessed
8. Trainwreck DJs
9. Double Penetrate the Market
10. Aphrodisiac Missles
11. The Silent Parade

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