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Winston Cook-Wilson’s songs don't have many obvious analogs in modern pop music. The waxy ballads he writes under his own name and the sharp-tongued soft-rock he releases as the frontman of Office Culture sound familiar but seem stubbornly hard to place. Destroyer’s Dan Bejar writes songs with comparably wry humor, but they’re often more acidic and cynical; Nicholas Krgovich has the same love for Sade but seems more spaced-out and more heartbroken. For this reason, it’s always been easier to compare Cook-Wilson’s music to that of artists who peaked a half-century ago, like Steely Dan or Prefab Sprout or even Randy Newman. It is, as I wrote three years ago, music not necessarily from a different time but from a different timeline.
On Office Culture’s new song, “Elegance” — released today alongside the announcement of a new album, Big Time Things, out September 30 on the redoubtable New York indie Northern Spy — Cook-Wilson is still in that uncanny space. Here the band — the core group of drummer Pat Kelly, bassist Charlie Kaplan, and guitarist Ian Wayne — dives deeper into luxurious R&B, audibly stretching it out until Ben Russell’s strings start to strain and Jess Tambellini’s glassy modular synth hook gets briefly lost in the mix. The lyrics are, as is often the case with Cook-Wilson, warm and sincere. There aren’t many bands who can lean on a hook this charmingly straightforward: “I only want you to be happy.” In fact, there aren’t many bands who are doing anything like this at all.