Local music: The Saturday Giant

  • Photo by Jodi Miller
From the December 15, 2011 edition

Most young people feel invincible, as if life is an unbreakable continuum that fades out, credits rolling, happily ever after. But eventually someone you care about is going to die. And if you’re a musician, you’ll probably make an album about it.

Phil Cogley coped by making “When Death Comes,” his second EP under the name The Saturday Giant.

“In middle school, if a teacher had pissed me off, I remember going home and using music to get back at that teacher,” Cogley said. “This is just a little more mature version of that — being really mad at death and trying to figure out how to deal with it.”

Cogley’s grandmother died in summer 2010. Less than a week later, so did his close friend Robert Lawson. A year later, Cogley’s 19-year-old cousin died in a motorcycle accident.

The deaths deeply impacted Cogley’s new EP, recorded in his basement for much of the past two years. Yet the music, built from one-man “jam sessions,” sounds more triumphant than sorrowful.

Cogley’s concoctions are one-part Ben Gibbard bespectacled reflection, one part John Vanderslice pocket symphony, one part Explosions in the Sky inspirational montage music. Unexpectedly, on the new EP, he also raps. Twice.

The songs are built to survive Cogley’s one-man live show, during which he loops guitars, keyboards, drums and vocals into humongous soundscapes. He used to play with a band, but he didn’t want to be constrained by other musicians’ opinions and availability. Instead, he’s constrained by technology.

That’s a minor obstacle compared to working through the emotions connected to those deaths, a struggle that yielded artistic progression but not closure.

“I’d like to say that it got me somewhere, but I’m not sure that it did,” Cogley said. “Ideally you want to say that you have answers or something like that, but I’m not sure that there are any. And maybe that’s OK.”