When making a story-focused album, especially a soft rock one where the instrumentals drop back to let the vocals take command, there are a lot of directions one can take to evoke emotion with listeners. There are many archetypes that songwriters will often fall back on, but a highly scheduled corporate life isn’t a typical one. Thankfully Office Culture proves there is a ghost in the machine with a beautiful album that sneaks up on you with its charm.
“Monkey Bone”, the closing track and my favorite on the album, exemplifies what I love about the project. There are explicit references to climbing the corporate ladder, the distrust and betrayal that comes in competitive settings, and a lot of the mundanity of the life within these structures, but the chorus is this cathartic release of emotion, the capturing of a single untainted moment “in the pale moonlight.” This juxtaposition of a very classic natural description to elicit emotion with the rest of the song heightens the effect, along with how it’s presented within the rest of the song, coming suddenly at the end of verses to feel that much more intertwined with the overall narrative.
Of course there are other highlights. “Hard Times in the City” is maybe the sweetest depiction of a stock market crash in music history, the falsetto and over-enunciation of “calculations” acting as a defense mechanism to conceal a quiet terror felt by everyone impacted. And “Diamonds” takes a different approach with relatively abrasive horns and emotional growls detailing how material goals affect relationships; the unsettling swirl of instruments fitting an angry yet resigned response to this phenomenon.
One unifying strength is the playful, understated instrumentals. The guitars pave a winding road for the lyrics to walk down, the little hi-hats and soft taps combined with a smooth piano on songs like “Too Many” present this very classy, elevator music ambiance for the stories being told, kind of like creating a corporate party atmosphere to talk about corporate life.
This album isn’t an instant, critically lauded classic, but it’s the kind of album that almost wouldn’t want to be. Along with the chill and lowkey instrumentals, the album’s relative obscurity almost adds to the experience, if this was a super popular project it wouldn’t achieve this underdog feeling it imparts. It’s a textbook hidden gem.