Soul Coughing was a great band that got almost zero attention during their brief career. What started out as free form jazz mixed with hip hop and slam poetry became a even more hypnotic mixture of a myriad of musical styles prior to the demise after just three records. I cannot think of a band with a more varied musical catalogue of influences that stilll managed to be completely unique.
1994's Ruby Vroom still is the purest mix of jazz and poetry that gave the band it's following. The whole record feels like a late night jam at a nightclub. Mike Doughty was the band's singer a and primary writer (he has since gone on to a moderately successful solo career). His words seem to lack cohesion until you start to really dig into them. "Is Chicago, Is not Chicago" has all the earmarks of a great jazz classic (complete with the upright bass line). "Down To This", which samples an old WWII song, hints at the electronic undertones that would later domiante their music.
1996 brought Irresistable Bliss, a more radio friendly album designed to broaden the fan base. While a strong record, it seemed to lack some of the avant garde nature of the first album. Still, "Super Bon Bon" and "Soundtrack to Mary" are irresistable in their own ways.
The band's last release was 1998's El Oso. This was a very radical deaprture from the first two records with a much greater reliance on electronic beats to compliment Doughty's poetry. "Circles" was a minor radio hit but really mislead people from the rest of the record. Songs like "St. Louise is Listening" and "Maybe I'll Come Down" showed a greater depth in writing and instrumentation. Unfortunately, the band broke up soon after.
What was great about Soul Coughing was the compete freedom to their musical approach and Doughty's abstract poetry. It's kind of a shame he has homogenized himself a bit since going solo (under the Dave Matthews Imprint) and morphed into just another singer/songwriter (although an above average one). Still, these guys are worth listening too simply because they truly don't sound like anyone else.
(m4a) Soul Coughing -- Is Chicago, Is Not Chicago (from Ruby Vroom)
(m4a) Soul Coughing -- Super Bon Bon (from Irresistable Bliss)
(m4a) Soul Coughing -- St. Louise is Listening (from El Oso)
(m4a) Soul Coughing -- Circles (from El Oso)