“At least there’s some self in self-destruction”, quips Patrick Kindlon, frontman of hardcore outfit Drug Church on their latest LP, the wryly-titled Cheer, which was released November 2 by Pure Noise Records. Their follow up to the 2013 album Hit Your Head finds the Albany, New York quintet emphasizing the more radio-friendly qualities of their sound, without having to sacrifice the floor-stomping riffs and heaviness associated with their sound.
Cheer finds the band clinging less to the grunge sound of their earlier releases; This time around, Kindlon and co. rely on nuanced songwriting and higher production qualities that bring a raucous singability to their offshoot of hardcore, giving the record overall a more polished, inspired feeling. It’s hard to ignore the 90’s alt-rock worship in the fuzzy, swirling guitars featured on most tracks, but now it feels more like a result of a close study of Walter Schreifels-style rock, instead of a lukewarm imitation of Nirvana-lite bands.
The album makes a bold, definitive statement with its opening track “Grubby,” deriving its loud bash of four chord punk from a tradition that falls somewhere in between Sub Pop and Revelation Records. Lyrically, in true Drug Church fashion, the song highlights the struggle of an adulthood guided by misplaced ambition and regret, where it’s “hard to form adult connections / When you sleep on turtle bedspreads,” a line of tongue-in-cheek catharsis sung over a full-throttle sonic blitz.
The first half of the album favors the band’s poppier sensibilities on singles “Strong References” and “Avoidarama”, with “Dollar Story” recalling the power ballads of Jawbreaker, perhaps if they had been signed to Dischord. The song reiterates one of the album’s main themes of portraying life constantly on the verge of near-disaster. Kindlon rebukes his poor decision-making complex that’s typical of self-inflicted poverty when you’re in a guitar rock band in 2018, suggesting “It’s just how the ventless vent / High risk.” The record’s exposition culminates to a boil, eventually launching into a full-blown group chorus on “Unlicensed Guidance Counselor.”
Overall, Cheer, in its inglorious, quasi-celebratory depiction of life on the edge, is worthy of its own celebration for its unapologetic guitar and hardcore theatrics. In an age of self-image and social media, it takes guts to admit to one’s shortcomings so publicly, and with such a brazen attitude. Summed up in a single line from the album, “Something often lost / life is process not product.”