Review: Drug Church – ‘Cheer’
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I recently watched a documentary that featured the artist Jeff Koons. He’s the guy who designs those giant metal balloon animals you might see in fancy building lobbies or a magazine. He does other stuff too, in fact at this point, he is just telling other artists on an assembly line what to paint, and then slapping his name on it and selling it for millions to investors, who put it in warehouses to appreciate in value. It made me want to throw up.
I also realized that you can’t fully blame Jeff because none of us can completely avoid the stain of our capitalist reality. Even myself, I don’t write nearly as much as I would like to because I need to do other things to make money. It sucks. Despite my best efforts to prevent money from influencing my decisions, there’s no way to avoid it. Unfortunately, capitalism has almost completely infected all art, and it’s not just art. The whole status quo is toxic: politics, work, religion. Life in America is a mess. As writer Luke O’Neil would say, “We live in Hell World.”
On Drug Church’s new album, their music is more accessible than ever. They’ve toned down some of the hardcore influences just enough to make the songs more of an indie rock tinged Such Gold/Polar Bear Club type combination. It allows the songs to be a bit catchier, and I think it will grow their audience. It’s a smart move. They just signed to a cool label and they need to sell some numbers if they want to continue with music as a career. It’s hard out here for an artist. But you would have to think at some level, toning down their intensity even for just 1 record had to sting a bit. But whatever, life isn’t perfect. All we can do is try.
However, by staring this reality in the face and making it central to their album, Drug Church have found a way to prevent this accessibility from weakening their work. Instead, the poppier sensibilities play right into the theme of our society’s imperfection. Along with every spoonful of catchy hooks, vocalist/lyricist Patrick Kindlon hits the listener with the heavy truths he has become known for over the course of his career. The lyrics are not some bubblegum nonsense, they’re a kick to the face, and in my opinion, the best lyrics of any punk record this year.
On Drug Church’s last record, they wrote about life from the perspective of common people, often diving into their flaws and hypocrisies, but also honoring their effort amongst the misfortune of life. On Cheer, they take that up a notch, again writing about working people, and using their stories to speak on some of the most crucial topics of our time with a thoughtful (often screamed) response. There are 4 general targets: the effects of capitalism on people’s lives, the imperfection of humanity, the toxicity within callout culture, and struggles with mental illness.
America is dominated by capitalism, so any artistic criticism on our society has to start there, and Drug Church do not back down. On “Grubby” and “Dollar Story”, Drug Church portray life from the perspective of maladjusted people, unsuccessful at work and just skidding by to survive. “Strong References” is the story of someone being talked into doing creepy modeling work for cash “I was young and I needed the money”. On “Weed Pin” a dude “wearing dress shoes for the first time” stumbles and destroys something at work and gets fired, but the ire isn’t directed only at him, but also the corporation who “Pays shit, gets shit labor”, certainly a line any employee can relate to. The central idea being that these are humans being crushed by the consuming need for more money to survive, but Kindlon isn’t just going to lay that out for you, he just presents their stories for the listener to dissect.
On “Unlicensed Guidance Counselor”, “Unlicensed Hall Monitor”, and then “Tillary”, Kindlon comes with a nuanced yet venomous take on callout culture. Now this has to be said, because it’s an important distinction, Kindlon is not saying that feminists are bad or that #MeToo is bad or even that calling out people is bad! Personally, I’m not even convinced I totally agree with his argument. But across these three tracks he makes a good case for his thesis, which is that no one is perfect, and while some people are scum and deserve what they get, the people taking glee in cancelling people for minor missteps are imperfect themselves and of questionable motives. If there was any issue that someone might be afraid to speak on via a song, this might be the one, but Kindlon is letting it all air out. “There’s a guy in a group chat with klansmen telling you how to live. / Just a matter of time till he’s the one twisting in the wind.“
Mental health is a recurring theme throughout the tracks, but it takes a leading role in “Avoidorama” which sings the internal monologue of someone suffering from mental illness and having trouble leaving their apartment. It’s the best song about that exact feeling since “Dealin’” by Sundials and shows the depths of understanding Kindlon holds within his angry verses. “Depression, home you’re staying. A laptop night complaining. Those bitter thoughts invading.“
Combining these dark truths with catchy punk instrumentals proves to be a winning combination, both because it makes for great music and for a wider reach for these ideas on these crucial topics. Kindlon and Drug Church are playing the game because they have to, but their goals remain the same. This album is their best work to date, and it bodes well for their artistic future.
Disappointing / Average / Good / Great / Phenomenal
Henderson Cole // @HendoSlice
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