Say Hi has broken up thirty seven times in the last decade. If the band were what most casual listeners assume it is (i.e., a traditional four piece rock outfit), things would have run their course shortly before the release of the first record in 2002. But the resilient (if mopey) bedroom recordist Eric Elbogen, who performs everything you hear on the Say Hi records and recruits musicians to perform the material live, always manages to continue moving forward, despite the ample foils that keep presenting themselves.
Musicians have been fired more often than not, and for every conceivable reason. Some have quit. Others have simply stopped returning phone calls. And while this does weigh heavily on the 34 year old multi- instrumentalist, who’s been searching for appropriate collaborators for more than 20 years, it doesn’t surprise him, given his lust for detail and seemingly endless quest for perfection.
Elbogen never shies from the opportunity to self-deprecate, so he’s the first to refer to himself as a tyrant when it comes to his methods of hiring and … um … torturing (?) new players—he can be curt and unrelenting when it comes to arranging songs for the live setting. It isn’t that he’s an unpleasant person (on the contrary, let us assure you that he’s a very nice man, witty and unassuming, polite and humble), he simply knows what he wants, and doesn’t see a reason for compromise. As a result however, tensions inevitably come to a head, normally in the middle of a lengthy tour. Under the best circumstances, both parties simply agree that it wasn’t meant to be. Under the worst, Elbogen will drop the revolter off at the nearest bus or subway stop, mid-tour, wishing him the best of luck. Still, as preposterous as Elbogen’s practices may be, he doesn’t seem to know how to work any other way. He wants the songs to sound the way he wants them to (and has sold almost 50,000 records to date as a result of this sound). So, there are arguments and quittings and firings, and you’ve never seen the same Say Hi touring configuration twice, because band-mates don’t often stick around for more than one tour.
Um, Uh Oh is the result of the last ten years of Elbogen’s experiences with failing at relationships, both musical and otherwise. Its title refers to the moment you realize that hope and reality aren’t ever going to sync up, or the moment two or twelve or thirty days into a tour when the songwriter realizes a touring-companion is on the brink of what he likes to call “crossing over.” And so, the narrators in the songs repeat the same mistakes over and over again. They watch joy from afar. They self-loath utterly and completely. They drive and they drive and they drive. They anticipate mortality. They look up from decades of tedium to find that joints now creak and opportunities have long passed. They hide their mortification from others as best as they can. They take deep breaths. They get punched in the gut.
The record is also Elbogen’s best to date. It’s weary and blue-noted, revealing, personal and pained and there’s expressiveness in his performance absent from previous releases. In fact, it’s difficult to fathom that the same songwriter that once wrote the sugary frivolity of the early Say Hi material could have written such a mature collection of songs. If you’ve been a fan in the past, you’re going to feel that Um, Uh Oh is a large step in the evolution of the band. If you haven’t, this is the record that’s going to change your mind.
Um, Uh Oh will be released by Barsuk Records on January 25th, 2011. Many, many months of drama-fueled touring will quickly follow.
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