Public Publication EP
(Sonic Entertainment; 2010)
By Calum Marsh | 20 August 2010
Rich Aucoin is so much more than just a musician. He makes really great pop music, yeah, but a simple, tangible product like his Public Publication EP is almost too pedestrian an end result for a process far greater in scope and ambition than simply writing and recording music. He’s a great connector of people, of sounds and talents and ideas, and an enthusiastic, almost nationalistic Canadian. He attempts projects nobody else would even think to try, and he not only sees his ideas through, he exceeds expectations. Who else would spend two years touring the country to record vocal and instrumental contributions from over 500 guest musicians, the offerings of whom range from twenty separate drum tracks to the harmonies of a 60-person elementary school choir? Better question: who, once they got into the editing room with the bulk of that raw material, could be expected to end up with an album this meticulously composed and narrowly focused? Incredibly, despite the wealth of time and effort poured into this project by Aucoin and the population of a small rural hamlet, the Public Publication EP clocks in at just over seventeen minutes. Give the man this: he may be audacious, but he’s not indulgent.
Given that the last decade’s obsession with operatic indie rock epics has long-since waned, Public Publication‘s relative slenderness and precision are as surprising as they are relevant. At its core, this is clean, forward-thinking electro-pop of the highest order. Despite its strength in numbers and the presence of a fully fleshed-out string sections, this EP is about as far away aesthetically from the sweeping, pretentiously ornate instrumentation of Forgiveness Rock Record—or, for that matter, any other overstuffed album by an indie rock collective—as any project this inclusive can get. Plus it’s a whole lot more fun: after the early Talking Heads build-up of opener “Brian Wilson Is A.L.I.V.E” prepares us for a pretty straight-forward art-punk think piece, Aucoin switches gears and goes for a winking “D.A.N.C.E” reference instead (this, it probably goes without saying, is where having a children’s choir comes in handy). Even as the song continues to swell, with drum breaks building upon drum breaks and new layers of sound being added to the ecstatic milieu, things remain sharp and focused. It’s densely layered, but there’s still space for the sounds to breathe, and as a result the noise never overwhelms. These songs sound simple but are anything but simplistic; most of the really complicated stuff goes on behind the scenes, leaving us to just enjoy the product straight-up.
“Push” trades Justice for another conspicuous point of reference: this time we get Daft Punk, with a pretty obvious nod to “Harder Better Faster Stronger” kicking things off. In this regard, again, we find Aucoin playing the role of the great connector of sounds, talents, and ideas: beyond bringing together the talents of contributing musicians, he’s quoting liberally from a wide array of the music that’s inspired him. Aucoin, then, is as much a curator as he is a creator, and Public Publication is a highly curatorial project: “Remember what we’ve been given,” goes the sing-along refrain of “A.L.I.V.E”, and across these four tracks Aucoin not only remembers, he relishes, paying tribute to all the things his project so baroquely frames. This album is a celebration not just of music itself but of the very act of creating music, of writing, producing, recording, contributing, listening, digesting, and reusing. Public Publication involves over 500 contributors, but also an almost infinitely greater number than that. We’re involved by listening, because that’s just another part of the process; Aucoin doesn’t want everyone to hear his music, he wants everyone to be a part of it.
“And it’s you that’s gonna have to save yourself,” Aucoin (and what sounds like three dozen others) sings on “Superman.” Strange that such a statement should be expressed so emphatically on an album dedicated to celebrating community, and yet it makes a certain kind of sense: the community brought together for and trumpeted on Public Publication didn’t come together by chance. It took a concentrated effort by a dedicated and ambitious individual. Aucoin once toured across the entire country on a bicycle, performing in dozens of cities along the way, as a fundraiser for charity; that endeavor, characteristically brazen and inspired, suggests a similar idea: these things are about helping and bringing together and just generally celebrating people all over as a whole, but they’re initiated and seen-through by one person. (In the case of the bike tour, one person in a hell of a lot better shape than I am.) That’s how it is with this EP: it’s Rich Aucoin’s Public Publication, by everyone and for everyone but made possible by Aucoin alone—and right now this guy is unstoppable.