Wednesday, 5 December 2018

Album Review: Cheer by Drug Church (by Richard Mair)

Hardcore. Potentially the scene that has shown the least progression, growth and development of any punk sub-genre; yet somehow I love it. It’s like a pair of comfy yet vitriolic slippers. The anger and angst spat forth from many bands is always a cathartic release of aggression. Yet despite my affection for the scene and the music, the bands I truly love are those that try to stretch beyond its strict confines. Bands like Boysetsfire, Grade and As Friends Rust are all stunning examples of what the scene can achieve when pushed, merging punk and emo, marrying melodic moments with brutal beatdowns. More recently the likes of La Dispute and Touché Amore demonstrate that creative hardcore has a place and role to play.

Despite this, Albany, New York’s Drug Church sound nothing like these bands; past or present. Imagine if you will the hits of The Pixies played by Planesmistakenforstars, whilst Bane’s Aaron Bedard half speaks half sings the sharp, witty, insightful lyrics of The Hold Steady’s Craig Finn and you quite possibly might be in the right ballpark.

Cheer, the band's third album, continues their development into a unique band who can straddle genres and pigeonholes whilst retaining the visceral aggression that debut album Paul Walker displayed when they unleashed it back in 2013. Sophomore effort Hit Your Head, whilst still good, lacked the creativeness of the Swell EP of 2015 and suggested that potentially the band had hit a point of identity crisis, from maintaining a clear hardcore focus to branching out into more arty, poppy territory. With Cheer Drug Church have found a perfect balance in the fine line they tread with noisy guitars, hardcore beats, pop infused melody and ear worm hooks. It feels like Cheer is the perfect representation of who the band see themselves as and it certainly doesn’t feel like it’s attempting to play to any specific genre. It feels that this is the album they wanted to make and aren’t concerned with what the scene may think.

Saying this there are still very much straight up hardcore moments on display. Both “Strong References” and” Conflict Minded” are very typical of Drug Church’s output to date for large parts. “Strong References” mellows in the final stages whereas “Conflict Minded” draws on those Pixies nods with the inclusion of female vocals and what my Anglophile ears perceive as Spanish lyrics; it’s like textbook Kim Deal and Frank Black in the heyday of the band in the late 90s. Opening track “Grubby” also provides some familiarity to older Drug Church material, notably “Thinking About Joining Drug Church” from debut album Paul Walker.

Where the album really excels is in the use of twisted melody alongside traditional punk tropes. Having toured extensively with a variety of bands it’s easy to see how external influences have permeated the sound of the band. The best example of this is “Foam Pit”. Strip it down and it’s typical of a straight forward pop-punk tune that you’d expect New Found Glory to trot out. In the hands of Drug Church this becomes something much more; a savage critique on selling out to the 9-5 lifestyle, set to a warped pop melody and beats designed to get people pogoing. Both “Weedpin” and “Unlicensed Hall Monitor” typify this use of what can only be described as aggressive melody with aplomb.

Perhaps the finest moment on the album is closing track “Tillary”. The track is extremely rhythmic with the drums playing a prominent role in propelling the song forward, whilst the guitars evoke a feeling of The Cure at their best (such as “Friday I’m in Love”). It’s an anthem devoted to the hypocrisy that many people in power portray, yes they say they want an equal society but their actions continue to suppress people. It’s a song full of anger and defiance and rounds the album off perfectly with its instrumental coda.

Cheer might be a somewhat ironic album title given the very sardonic nature of the content. One would argue that there is very little to celebrate within Drug Church’s world, yet like all good hardcore the shared belief and values always remind me that we can make a difference and change the world for the positive. Given the accessible nature of the album and the potential for it to resonate in our current socio-political environment, maybe just maybe we’ll see more people thinking about the world around them and how they can bring about positive change… and that certainly would be something to cheer about.

Stream and download Cheer here:

Like Drug Church here:

This review was written by Richard Mair.

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