A Life of Crime, the sophomore LP from Brooklyn quartet Office Culture, is a collection of smooth, sophisticated pop that falls somewhere between Bryan Ferry’s fashionable lounge singer swagger, Hefner’s low-rent bedsit majesty, the Blue Nile’s widescreen, late night romance, and the kind of music Patrick Bateman would like (but not Patrick Bateman himself). It’s clear that songwriter and vocalist Winston Cook-Wilson has an affinity for the sort of 1980s pop that sounds as if it could be playing in a fern bar or feature at a cocktail party attended by guys wearing sport coats with pushed up sleeves and women with perms.
But beyond that vivid sonic wrapping, what really gives the album substance to match its impeccable mood is the way the band subverts the glossy ideal. The narrators in Office Culture’s songs aren’t future-mortgaging hedonists. They’re people struggling in the shadows of success, perhaps succeeding superficially, but being flattened under the weight of the spiritual costs. Songs like “A Sign” and “Hard Times in the City” are saturated with the ghosts of Prefab Sprout, and use guitarist/keyboardist Ian Wayne’s skill at creating atmosphere to vividly conjure a man in a dress shirt, tie loosened and sleeves rolled up, alone at night in an office on the 30th floor of a big city skyscraper. The languid, sax-soaked “Diamonds” evokes the concurrent noir beauty and crushing loneliness of a late night subway station. “Parade” nods to both the self-aware, sardonic best of Steely Dan (dig that electric piano) and Paul Buchanan’s rain-slicked synth-noir romance.
There’s a certain attractive delusion to the unsuccessful strivers in these songs. “A ponzi scheme for two”, as Cook-Wilson sings, in his captivating croon, in album closer “Monkey Bone.” Much of A Life of Crime is infused with the idea that it takes two to lie. The people in Office Culture’s songs may be fooling themselves, but they do it in enveloping style. | Mike Rengel