A Night at the Ritz
Scratchie / New Line
eat philosopher Alan Watts repudiated our destructive division between work and play. “Something,” wrote he, “so stupid as boring ourselves and wasting ourselves for 8 hours in order to be able to enjoy ourselves the other 8 hours…” such that work becomes drudgery and play becomes empty.
Chicago quintet Office was forged from similar philosophies of finding the soundtrack to a quasi-uprising of business casual ratracers. Their attitude perhaps finds its perfect embodiment in “Wound Up,” whose shimmering keyboards meld with raunchy bass lines that effectively wrench your tie loose as the elevating chorus drives you right out of the skyscraper. It’s an anthem of well-needed self-indulgence and escapism: “Let’s go to the beach tonight / With a bottle of wine,” and a tide-splashed toast to independence: “Here’s to you / And here’s to me.”
Scott Masson, the group’s leader, started piano at a young age, growing up in the fading days of hardcore and neo-punk and somehow fell into a heavy investment in obtuse pop styles. He was also into sculpture—the concept of the band started with an art space covered in Xerox paper and cell phones hung from the ceiling.
This crude sort of tell-it-like-it-is reflection of contemporary society permeates Ritz, but the music of this biting former punk rocker is also comparable to Brian Wilson: think “this shit ain’t right” lyrics put to hyper-pulsed electronic flights of fancy and intoxicatingly hooky melodies.
“Oh My,” for instance, subtly explodes then recedes for the fuzzy synth pounding to arrest you with marching beats. “If You Don’t Know By Now” leads off with a playful wandering piano jaunt atop a spilled out guitar swagger (that swirls into a declarative solo by Tom Smith). This swells to the centerpiece “The Ritz,” with guitar riffage so heavenly in its strut that it recalls classic power popsters like the Cars, amid tightly-locked percussion (from Erica Corniel).
Many of these songs were born in Masson’s apartment, an abating refuge in the eye of Chicago’s urban storm and that uneasy peace, hurried pace, and a yearning for calm is heard easily in Office’s new-wave disco-grunge anthems: loud and urgent guitars get offset by swaying, charismatic basslines; pedal-to-the-metal percussion is calmed by the dreamy, massaging tones of the keyboards buzz. All the while, Masson’s vocals are invaluably pumped by the subtle, ethereal harmonies of Alissa Hacker, Tom Smith, and Jessica Gonyea.
Masson quit his day job in ’05 and declared his new day job to be music. What’s stopping you?
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