Massachusetts songwriter Cooper Handy’s naive, bizarro-world pop is a portal to a dimension weirder and more vivid than this one.
Cooper Handy, aka Lucy, has been making bizarro pop music since 2010, when he was 16 and living on Cape Cod. He started as a teenager messing around with GarageBand plugins, then cut his chops in the Dark World collective, Western Massachusetts’ answer to GothBoiClique. (He left the group in 2016, not long after the FADER published a photo of the crew drinking Dunkin’ shirtless.) Now based a few hours away from the Cape in the town of Hadley, he’s become inescapable within a certain East Coast DIY set, showing up on bills at every basement venue and semi-legal artists’ loft you can think of. There’s a reason for this: His surreal songs exist on their own planet. The Music Industry Is Poisonous, his ninth record and second release of the past year, is one such offering.
Handy’s music is naive and free-associative, written with the exploratory excitement of a little kid flipping rocks in search of bugs. Over frenetic drum machine and synth on “Turn Page,” he catalogs his elementary school teachers: “My first-grade teacher was Mister O/My second-grade teacher was Miss M/Third-grade teacher was Miss W,” he sings, sounding as if he were perhaps under the influence of a hypnotist. The equally strange “Like a Weakness” laments the “bad boy lifestyle” and waxes poetic about “growing up/been a great kid.” And on “Rock, The,” where one percussive effect sounds suspiciously like the sound of a computer trash can, he’s sad because a friend doesn’t want to “play” with him anymore.
It would be easy for this kind of writing to come off as trite, but The Music Industry Is Poisonous often feels like a trip to a dimension more vivid than the one we currently occupy. It’s a sensation underlined by Hadley’s explanation of his band name: “Maybe a loose cigarette maybe psychedelics maybe that hominid from the Australopithecus afarensis species. Love Unity Communication Yes.” But he’s not so much of an alien that there isn’t a blueprint for what he’s doing: Compare, for instance, the Moldy Peaches’ love songs about playing video games, or Alan Vega’s Farfisa Elvis impersonations in Suicide.
Part of the joy of listening to this record is in the fun Handy clearly had making these songs—they sound effortless, one-take, fueled by a first-thought-best-thought ethos that doesn’t bother to check itself. Even so, The Music Industry Is Poisonous is sometimes too goofy for its own good, so wide-eyed and unserious that it verges on twee, or worse, a comedy bit. Album closer “Lucky Stars,” though, feels labored over in a way that the other songs don’t. Drum machines shuffle in the background as detuned pianos recall evenings on the couch, watching old cartoons with friends. It’s a proper ballad; you might even call it romantic. Best of all, Handy’s lyrical hook riffs on “Maps,” the Yeah Yeah Yeahs classic. “They don’t love me like I love me,” he sings. You kind of don’t believe him at all.