Some Professional Help's self-titled debut EP (out May 18) explores different angles of orchestral pop through the lens of indie rock & underground folk, guiding listeners through soundscapes of horns, strings, and thumping percussion. At times it feels like a well-curated mixtape for a lover; a little Bright Eyes here, some Jonathan Richman there, a nod to the Mountain Goats...Each of the 6 tracks sound like a different band because each track is a different band, albeit with the same singer/band leader.
Listen to the radio and it's obvious guitar music is on the cultural backburner at the moment. The music community has a thirst for new sounds, drowning themselves in '80s and synths in the search for pop perfection. What they don’t know is perfection doesn’t live in a drum machine. Pop perfection is born from an orchestra, and Scott Alexander’s non-monogamous collective Some Professional Help is here to usher it in.
Alexander calls the EP "nonrepetitive pop." Foregoing pop music's conventional verse-chorus-verse structure, Alexander's tunes fall more in line with the wandering movements of an orchestral arrangement. “Musical structure sort of evolved pre-recording, pre-notation,” he explains. “So things had to be repetitive. It was a mnemonic device. That’s why we have repetition. And when composers started notating music so performers could just read the notes, classical music developed, which is significantly less repetitive.”
Some Professional Help navigates a complex maze of sounds, each instrument selected with as much attention to detail as each note. “That’s how I think about songs. Not every song should be just guitar, bass, and drums,” says Alexander. “As much as I love bassoon it doesn’t work on every song, the same as any other instrument.”
Alexander chose 16 professional musicians of the highest caliber to play on the EP. They're members of the Bay Area's best bands and orchestras including Jazz Mafia, Van Goat, Makeunder, Balkan Bump, Yassou, pickPocket Ensemble, San Francisco Mandolin Orchestra, Judgment Day, Tumbleweed Wanderers, and Awesöme Orchestra Collective, and have performed with artists like Gramatik, Beats Antique & more.
“When I moved to the Bay Area I got back into orchestral playing,” says Alexander who, in addition to guitar, makes his living playing the bassoon. “I'd meet all these great musicians out here and I'd want them to be in a band with me. The problem's that they’re very in demand. They’re session players or already in a band. So after spending a bunch of time trying to form a band, I realized I wouldn’t be able to get the people I wanted. They wouldn’t be able to commit.” The solution was an open relationship.
Many solo projects rely on collaborators without giving them proper credit, but Some Professional Help is defined by the exploration that collaboration allows. Alexander’s soaring tenor yelp has a sore ache to it like each word is hiding some secret pain. By pairing it with a continually shifting backing band, Some Professional Help takes on an indie rock meets musical theater air. Each track tells a different story, with a glorious minimalist cover of Cake's "Never There" serving as an intermission to the acts.
“I started thinking about the way theater companies work,” explains Alexander, “The theater will have its regular company, but not every member of the company is in every show.”
Fans of weird pop, Nana Grizol, Magnetic Fields and They Might Be Giants owe it to themselves to check out this underground pop quasi off-Broadway musical. These six songs are just the start of a long run of pop perfection.
released May 18, 2018
All songs were written and produced by Scott Alexander, except “Never There” by John McCrea. Recorded at Fantasy Studios in Berkeley, CA. Audio engineers: Alberto Hernandez, Adam Muñoz, and Jesse Nichols. Mixed by Jesse Nichols at Opus Studios in Berkeley, CA. “Never There,” was record and mixed by Scott Bergstrom at 25th Street Recording in Oakland, CA. Mastering by Michael MacDonald at AlgoRhythms Mastering, Santa Fe, NM. Graphic design by Nora Merecicky. Nora is really cool. Please visit SomeProfessionalHelp.com for detailed program notes and lyrics for each song.
Loosing my stomach for rejection
It’d go down easier, if i could just changer perspective And see the smiling faces when they’re smiling back at me And not the ghosts their absence leaves.
It’s clear that you can love me.
We both surely know this.
But only can you love me if you love me in small doses.
My invitations are all decently received and I can now accept that few are ever sent to me. But I won’t be throwing any pity party
Oh, I know that it’s nothing personal.
In my life, you want to play a role,
but you rather would be cast as a cheerful cameo.
I’ve been on the other end of this sticky situation.
Your company is nourishing but I rarely find the craving.
And no matter how sweet you are to me
I’ll pass then times out of thirteen
And opt to count the lonely hours tasting my own medicine Which is really not so bitter if you find a way to notice
That I’m so fricken fond of you when I find you in small doses.
Instead of feeling sad
I’ll just be grateful for what I have.
Rather than wracked by guilt
Don’t give it a second thought.
Just take the love you’ve got and savor it with me.
I will not stop you when you leave.
Whatever piece that you tear off me you can keep.
I ain’t gonna loose my mind waiting to heal.
I’m sure that I’ll be fine if you keep your end of the deal. There is nothing in this world that’s more potent than to know Even if the feeling comes or even easier still goes
I will survive on your love
Even if it’s a small dose.
Track Name: In My Place
I’ve taken time for talking to you
And I’ve taken the time for listening too
And no one’s taking score
But if they did I know that I’d take more
Give me one moment, I’ll give you my take
But if I give too much, please don’t make me wait For you to put me in my place
I don’t want to argue to be petty
Or bicker to be contrary
I just thought I’d tell you how that I love the way we disagree Advice you did not ask for is the only kind you need
I’m so glad I can count on you to be a jerk to me
And I love the way we disagree
You give the best attention as you choose to ignore All of the eggshells we have spilt upon the floor
So I’ll take a chance and I’ll do the same
I’l stomp right on your face
Bouncing I’ll wait patiently for you to put me in my place Cause you do not lack empathy and I’ve got some to spare But when you do offend me, it shows me that you care
Your words don’t really hurt me but your silence brings despair And when you do offend me it shows me that you care
The foundation of our bond is not conflict
In fact, it is quite rare
But if I can’t tell when it’s there
Then i’ll freeze just like a statue that’s forgotten and defaced And I’ll crumble into ruins if you don’t put me in my place.
But if you just give me a sign that I’ve stepped out of line
Then it’s you who’s out of touch
Because you should know that I don’t read much
In the patterns that we make
Which are between the give and the take
It does not disrupt to disagree
Now if you’re ready to offend me as I push the scale and it sways All I need to know is that you’ll put me in my place
I’ll forget my etiquette, but adore how you’ll get over it
All I need to know is that you’ll put me in my place
Track Name: Nadja
Every day I’m going to the mailbox
On Sundays and holidays
Just as bloody likely
Midnight, daylight, online, and all the time
I’m waiting for a countess to notice me
I’m looking for your letter like Peter Tchaikovsky for Nadja
We all fantasize about the lottery
But I have this dream that you’re gonna sponsor me Oh Nadja, please!
I know that it seems pathatique
But that’s just how things feel when you don’t write to me Because with your help, I’ll need for no one else
Please don’t think it’s a crime to patronize
If you never want to meet me, I understand completely I don’t want to fool around
I just want a pen pal
And I’ll share my secrets
while you see genius
cause on these pages nothing’s wasted
The ledger lines will take us higher
Through the wire is a kind of romance so please, Kiss me with your supple finance
Because the fortune you could offer me
Is more than common currency
And I know you’ll invest if you believe in me But how can that be true
If Nadja, I do not believe in you?
Every day I’m going to to mailbox
On Sundays and probably most people think I’m crazy For Nadja
Track Name: Never There (for bassooning and crooning)
I need to feel your arms around me
I need to feel your touch
I need your understanding I need your love So much
You tell me that you love me so You tell me that you care
But when I need you
You’re never there
On the phone long long distance Always through such strong resistence First you say you’re too busy
I wonder if you even miss me
You’re never there
You’re never ever ever ever there
A golden bird that flies away A candle’s fickle flame
To think I loved you yesterday Your love was just a game
Take the time to get to know me
If you want me why can’t you just show me We’re always on this rollercoaster
If you want me why can’t we get closer?
Track Name: A Few More Years
When I was six years old I wanted to be ten
All the best toys in the catalogue said you had to be that old for them Infants are the cutest. I’d surely outgrown that.
But I felt treated like a baby and enough is what I’d had.
Yet by the time that I’d turned nine I had to raise my sights
I needed to be in my teens so I could find myself a squeeze
Just like that and finally!
I could go out on my Friday nights.
The center of the universe was just a few years off
With a silver screen as my crystal ball, I knew by sixteen I’d have it all I read tea leaves on the TV and I knew by sixteen I’d have it all
Before I knew it I could drive a car I could talk to girls and play guitar While trapped inside the cage of my folks’ paranoid ways
High school was no escape as we were shackled to our social rank and sentenced by a letter grade
So I’d focus on that GPA, get myself to college and get my way Once I got to college, I’d have it made.
When i was twenty three I couldn’t shake the feeling that no one took me seriously
All that time and I’d still need a co-sign to start my life with two decades that had slipped by I built up the birthdays but didn’t build a résumé
I made mistakes, but it didn’t take the cake in any way that got me paid
and so I’d have to wait for a few more years of experience
What’s a few more years of experience?
It’s no secret how time flies
But after that it finds a place to hide
Now my age is private
And I have to hope that no one finds it
If it means as much to them as it did to me back when
I was always discontent and I didn’t have the patience to get old
When I was not so old I wanted to be so
But I still do not want to be young
Just allowed to grow
I never cared for being young and now I can’t stand to feel too old And in a few more years, this will still be so
All I ever wanted was to grow.
Track Name: Lise Meitner
If I fell in the woods
Then I’m sure I’d make a sound
But if I stood straight up and set roots in the ground
No one would notice me around
And I’m sure I’d never be found
Despite my persistence, I’d question my existence
But the answers can’t be found,
Or at least they aren’t any good
And then the leave will rot
And I’ll still not see how I ended up here in the middle of the woods
I think I’m smart enough to be here
And too smart to have to prove that
The center of the action is where we all come from and make things happen
Just to be a part of this
Gives meaning to the emptiness
I can’t fill it up unless I take my place
I don’t mean to turn my nose at those on the outside
But I’d fall apart in isolation
Like a house of cards in an old train station
With no wind to knock me down
But the weight of the dust that I gather will push me to the ground
I don’t want to cause a commotion
But if I can be in it, I will keep from being broken I do not need to be alone
Because I can’t thrive if I am on my own
So if I’m smart enough
I’ll work hard because
The forces from the center all push out
So Imma ganna be here
And I’m going to be seen here
So you best me taking notes for this
Because the time will come when I’m finished
And what will all of this mean
If memory is so slippery I could be displaced from all I’ve made
So please believe me
It’s not glory that I’m seeking
I’m just trying to exist while I keep from disappearing
I’m no tree in the woods
I’ll echo far and near
As long as you can recognize
That I’m smart enough to be here