Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Review: Drug Church - Swell

My love for Drug Church is a natural one. I grew up on End of a Year (now Self Defense Family) and my adoration for Pat Kindlon is one of an adolescent's for bubblegum pop artists (or maybe my younger sister's for Lana Del Ray, but no more about that). So when I got a notification from Spotify about Drug Church dropping Swell, I got sick with joy. This, of course, was immediately followed by a panging reservation: as an über-fanboy of EOAY/SDF and Drug Church, what if this release wasn't up to par? What if this release was lackluster, even in the slightest?

It's not. Not by any means.

This EP is brilliant. Drug Church, no strangers to the creation of strange aggressive music, have somehow dug deeper down inside their own mythos for one of the stronger releases of 2015 (thus far, and I have no doubt that it'll remain that way).

Drug Church has spun a web concentric only around themselves with Swell. While Paul Walker was a fun, outright-aggressive release worthy of far more praise than it initially received, Swell (maybe ironically, seeing its status as an EP) is more of a traditionally defined album, with the songs establishing an overall mood. The only song that's slightly out of place is "Mall SWAT", and even then, they've brought back an (and I hate typing this out as to diminish it) honest-to-Jesus breakdown and made the one more-or-less "hardcore" song on the EP. But even with that description, "Mall SWAT" still unfolds as a prototypical Drug Church song. The true course of the album, though, is one of absolute separation from the hardcore prowess they presented on Paul Walker. This, I think, is an improvement. Pat seems at home within the sort of general "aggressive alternative" sound, and his lyricism has followed suit: moving more beyond simple narrative (which featured heavily on Paul Walker, whether autobiographical or not) and into a more streamlined, manic, introspective voice that disregards the irony found in the band's debut LP for the sake of near-tangible sincerity that permeates almost every line on the EP. Stand-out lines are (from the single "But Does it Work?") "Man and woman, I've tried man and man, woman and woman, I presume (nothing works)." And the harsh imagery of "Work with your hands or have them cut off (I'll cut them off)" in "Work-Shy". The EP is a shining example of discarding sarcastic, borderline-sardonic vitriol for an honest, self-involved inspection of common life. That last sentence was everything I wanted to write about Drug Church and certainly not what I expected to.

It's not so much, though, that Drug Church has simply made another Drug Church album. The reasons I loved Paul Walker are vastly different from the reasons I love Swell--and I think that's going to be the general consensus among critics and listeners. Swell spins in on itself in a way that the sprawling, tantric Paul Walker didn't. And with it, Drug Church have actually transcended themselves and formed a signature sound that can only grow and improve.

Drug Church, as a post-whatever troupe, have set themselves on a path known only by them with Swell, and (put simply) it's a release that everyone should hear regardless of past involvement with the band. Swell displays a side of the band that wasn't so quickly recognized on previous releases: one that I hope stays. And I think it works.