Patrick Kindlon’s affiliation to both Drug Church and Self Defense Family has been both a blessing and curse in the past. On one hand, it’s allowed him to establish himself as wry, weirdly smart yet smartly weird frontman that’s always an easy sell in this brand of post-punk-influenced post-hardcore, but it’s also a role that hasn’t seen him branch out beyond the two niche fan bases, both of which has a rather substantial crossover as it is. It doesn’t help how unappeasable his presence on record can be, regularly weaving in his own sense of humour into lyrics and turns of phrase that are already off-kilter, and especially on Drug Church’s 2015 Hit Your Head, it could prove a bit much to swallow for anyone outside of the most dedicated circle. But even so, there’s something so magnetising about Kindlon as a musician, enough to give further projects the benefit of the doubt just to see what might happen, and while Self Defense Family’s Have You Considered Punk Music? slipped under the radar for pretty much everyone, there’s a lot more groundswell around Drug Church’s Cheer for it to go ignored.
And that’s probably a good ethos to have, especially when Cheer essentially embodies the lack of seriousness that’s gone into Drug Church’s music, an album that’s basically about stumbling through life without any particular skills, and somehow managing to come out unscathed at the other side; it says a lot in that regard that the second song is Strong References, a track dealing with one of Kindlon’s previous careers as a nude model. But in a way, that overarching theme goes even deeper into their album’s DNA, especially when Kindlon himself has described this as the band’s sellout album where a greater financial motivation has shaped a lot of the sound and execution. As such, the punk elements feel a bit more conventional, the sound is generally bigger and closer in proximity to more standard alt-rock, and singing plays a bigger role in the vocal delivery. And yet, this is still the scrappy, rough-around-the-edges fare that Drug Church have become known for, and while blowing it up to a greater scale hasn’t perfected the formula by any means, it’s certainly more of a palatable, enjoyable listen.
That’s in no small part down to a greater use of melody and what can almost be seen as pop song structures to refine these tracks down to a more simplistic, punchy essence. The chunky bassline of Avoidarama could almost belong to a pop-rock songs before the squalling guitars come in to bulk it up, while Weed Pin is possibly the most easily-likable song Drug Church have penned to date, particularly in its bracing guitars that carry some seriously strong momentum, and the warping, wiry synth to balance it all out. The “sellout” assertions do seem to hold up for the most part; it’s easily the band’s most straight-laced and uncomplicated album to date musically, though is played with the ethos of an underground band in its lack of polish and abundance of sharp edges and dirt under its nails. And of course, Kindlon plays a big hand in that, typically defaulting to a throatier sing-talk style that lends a surly edge to tracks like Grubby and Foam Pit, and cranks the overall acidity up a decent level. Even in the outright melodic singing on Unlicensed Guidance Counselor and Conflict Minded, it’s never too clean to clash with what’s around it. It’s still a bit of an acquired taste (hell, that’s the case for the entire album), and when paired with the more openely noise-rock-inspired Unlicensed Hall Monitor the overall impact is a bit shakier, but with his typically esoteric, reflexive lyrics, it feels like a natural companion.
That alone probably negates any assertions of this being a “sellout”; if anything, this feels like the next natural step for Drug Church to take, moving past an overly-obtuse sound that has generally ran its course for something sharper and tighter, though without losing that left-of-centre edge. That’s the general impression of Cheer, even if some work could still be done to eke out slightly more potential. It’s a good jumping-off point for the next stage in Drug Church’s career, moving into sounds more befitting of a “bigger” band, but remaining true to the roots of the scene they still reside in. If anything, it’s the natural endpoint of the route this album details – they’ve stumbled through life, and come out the other side unscathed.
For fans of: Self Defense Family, Single Mothers, Touché Amoré
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘Cheer’ by Drug Church is released on 2nd November on Pure Noise Records.