November 11, 2019
Released On September 9, 2016
Released By Weird World
I discovered Drugdealer because of a show called High Maintenance (roll your eyes with me, please). It was about a… wait for it… drug dealer, living in New York City, dealing drugs to hipsters and the like. It was during an episode featuring a hospital bed and a marriage gone awry that the song “Suddenly” played over the end credits. I liked it because it was groovy and because it fit the scene perfectly while also capturing the mood of the happy moments of that period in my life — late evenings drinking at my friends’ apartment, road trips to my old hometown, early Sunday morning walks around an empty campus trying to recover after some Saturday night outing — times which I could only diminish the significance of by trying to explain. Even now, as I write this piece while re-listening to the album, “Suddenly” captures the energy of certain moments in my twenties, like that night spent watching High Maintenance, that entire semester of undergrad, and even more recent memories, like barista shifts spent with my coworker, dancing to the song between steaming milk and pouring lattes. Music has always been memory to me. The songs I love represent where I’ve been, where I’m at, and where I hope to head. It feels a bit silly to get this sentimental over an artist who calls themselves ‘drugdealer,’ yet here we are.
If the film subgenre of mumblecore had a musically gifted cousin, I think it would be whatever genre you want to call The End Of Comedy. Drugdealer, Crumb, Martin Courtney, Hoops, they all form the musical equivalent to what the mumblecore movement was in film — but only in mood really, not so much in the association with the white middle-class, trust fund kids, and mildly depressed hipsters (although if you’re a member of one of the aforementioned bands and suffer from one of these ailments, don’t let me discount you). It makes sense that I would connect with this record, as the energy that it captures — one that is light, ironic, and hopeful, even in the face of some looming discontent — is one that I find particularly intoxicating in art. It’s a sort of perspective that my generation really made our own, after years of watching how things shouldn’t be done at the top, yet feeling too overwhelmed to do anything about it, the protest exists in the art. I’m not really trying to say that The End Of Comedy is a protest album, but… I guess it could be? I don’t really know where to head with that one, but this album definitely encapsulates a perspective on life that is shared amongst people, and I suppose you could easily call a group of people getting together under something and saying ‘we agree,’ a form of protest. Whatever The End Of Comedy is saying, I agree with it, unless, of course, the artist known as Drugdealer goes on Twitter and tweets something problematic, in which case, we’ll need to delete this article. But I have faith.
I haven’t talked too much about the music yet, so I guess I’ll go ahead and just describe it as futuristic, throwback, glad-boy funk, with some bawl-your-eyes-out ballads about things that aren’t really that sad. The guest vocalists on this record are incredible, as are the songs, the melodies, and the production. When I listen to this album, I feel as though everyone involved had a lot of fun working together. I could be wrong, as musicians sometimes don’t agree, but the idea of these artists having the time of their lives making this beautiful music makes me happy. Songs that come in as close seconds to my favorite after “Suddenly,” are “Easy To Forget,” “Were You Saying Something?,” and “It’s Only Raining Right Where You’re Standing.” There is seriously not a less than amazing track on this album, and I respect songwriters who can deliver over the course of an entire track listing. I have a great deal of respect, admiration, and appreciation for Drugdealer, and I’m glad that I can do this small part in sharing their music with a few more ears.
Wistful psych-pop that rouses with modern insight and echoes with retro intimacy.
One thing I’ve found interesting about the vinyl “revolution” over the past decade or so is that although fans are increasingly enthused about having their music on vinyl, artists aren’t necessary as enthused to provide music that sounds like it’s on vinyl. Does that make sense? What I mean is that it’s cool for a Taylor Swift album to be available on wax, but it still sounds like an over-compressed, 2019 pop record, no matter how warm you proclaim your analog system to be. But Drugdealer throws us a warm analog blanket on a cold winter’s day with The End Of Comedy. As an avid vinyl collector, with titles mostly from the late-sixties to the mid-seventies, I can say that this record bears some of my favorite musical hallmarks. For example, go back and listen to the snare drum on “Sea Of Nothing.” It’s dirty. It’s raspy. It sounds like Drugdealer found that snare drum in a dusty storage unit from a client that couldn’t pay for their drugs, didn’t even bother to tune, tape, or dust it off, and told the engineer to hit record. There’s no post-production clean up or, again, over-compression, but there’s a certain character there that can’t be mimicked with any amount of modern technology. There are other intriguing quirks to this record as well. “Suddenly” sound like something Napolean Dynamite would jam out to. In fact, I think he’d probably make it Pedro’s official campaign song. and then there’s the gorgeous strings of “Theme For Alessandro” — I will be sampling this tune expeditiously. Same for “It’s Only Raining Right Where You’re Standing.” If this is The End of Comedy, I’m super curious to hear what is sounds like for Drugdealer to bring the drama.
I’m partial to the idea of dreams being something you refill by being awake, and I’m especially partial to the idea that the real world is essential in this capacity. I like the idea so much that I was tempted to go full ‘old man yelling at clouds’ the first time I heard “The Real World.” See, I’m part of that group of people who don’t like the constant distraction of screens and people giving into that temptation. I have a smartphone, but I try to ignore it as much as possible and as often as possible. To that end, I power it off for a few hours per day so I can be productive and creative without interruption. The quiet is nice. Much like “The Real World,” I prefer this world—reality—to a digital one, even if it is a dream. Dreams aren’t real in the sense that they’re fiction, but they’re more real than anything you can view on a screen. That may seem like a distinction without a difference, but it’s not. Your dreams are informed by your experiences, which can only occur or accumulate when you’re awake and living life. A quick example to illustrate: This past Tuesday night, I had a dream where Roger Daltrey was working at a Target and no one recognized him. To show that I did and that I was a fan, I went over the music section and grabbed several Who albums on vinyl and brought them to where Daltrey was cashiering. When it was my turn to check out, he looked at my selections in a puzzled manner and asked who The Who was. Then I woke up. It’s silly, yes, but I don’t think I would’ve seen that particular piece of fiction anywhere but in my own head. I’d bet that the two main components, Daltrey and Target, come from the fact that I’ve enjoyed The Who’s music since high school and that I spent seven years of my twenties working for Target. It’s not a piece of fiction you can market and I’m doubtful anyone besides me would want to watch it. Yet I have to admit to listening to The End Of Comedy on Spotify and writing this using Google Docs, so perhaps I’m arguing against myself here. That’s certainly a bit absurd, but then again so is this album.
Enjoy a “different” route through your favorite town.
In the “Singles” section of my Best Of 2016: Rock, Folk, Etc., I had this to say about our artiste of the week: “Drugdealer – Suddenly (feat. Weyes Blood) I don’t know about drugs but I would definitely buy a slightly used Badfinger or Carol King song from this guy. His loopy, stapled together lite rock was a bit much over the course of an album, but this single is pure mellow gold. Tip of the hat to Lyle Preslar and Jim Shearer from The Week In Music for this recommendation.” Sadly, the Lyle and Jim show petered out a while ago, but Drugdealer (AKA Michael Collins) is still going strong, having released Raw Honey, his sophomore effort, earlier this year. I had a similar reaction to that album as well, digging lead single “Fools” as a stunningly perfect Steely Dan/Boz Scaggs/Gerry Rafferty pastiche while finding the rest of the album both arch and snoozy. But the fact that my knight’s helmet-shaped AM radio would have delightedly spewed forth both “Fools” and “Suddenly” in 1974 without anyone batting an eye, is a testament to Collins’s talent. I would also say he’s struck a chord (probably a minor seventh played on a Fender Rhodes) with a sizable audience with 500,000+ monthly listeners on Spotify and a number of songs with over a million streams. In the world of Off Your Radar, the man’s a superstar! P.S. Listening to the album again after a few years, I’m surprised at the accomplished mood-setting of the instrumental interludes (“Theme From Rockaway,” “Theme For Alessandro,” etc.), which I had forgotten about. More please, Mr. Collins.
Whether intentional or not, Drug Dealer’s The End Of Comedy begins recalling the unintentionally drab “Christmas Time Is Here” from Charlie Brown’s Christmas special. Am I alone on this one? I can hear it. It’s apropos considering that I also thought Charlie Brown represented a sort of end of comedy. A lot of effort went into writing those comics and drawing them and each one ended with a sort of confounding non-punchline or a quip that fell flat. “Of all the Charlie Browns in the world, you’re the Charlie Browniest.” What does that even mean? Since it’s self-referential, one has to suppose that somewhere out there, a person understood what it meant to be Charlie Brown and further, what being excessively so looked like. It’s not me. Lucky for me, however, the similarities end there to some extent. “Suddenly” is a rather relaxed pop ditty that takes some inspiration from jazz and funk. The album is infused with interesting, albeit somewhat random sound effects and samples. As with many of Michael Collin’s projects, it’s very much a work of art that chooses music as its delivery form. Whether or not he even intends to entertain the listener is beside the point. There’s an air of self-indulgence on tracks like “Easy To Forget,” but it works. An easy acoustic guitar strum and crystal clear production make it delightful to listen to. You can take pleasure in this record whether that was intended or not. The flute on “Were You Saying Something?” has a similar vibe. Musically, this is a deep and complicated work that results in sounding shallow and easy. Lyrics like “I’m in the clouds because you’re in my thoughts” and “Can this trip be real / You’ve got to show how you feel” are abruptly cut off as the music halts as if it were a throw-away track not worth finishing properly. “Theme For Alessandro,” the interlude at the center of the record, sounds like it could be the soundtrack to a shortlived love scene from a ’70s movie. As I write this, I realize it sounds a little bit of criticism — perhaps even fragmented criticism. The record is exactly that fragmented though. It’s a sort of psychedelic pop romp through a series of ideas that gave genesis to this collection of musical randomness. But all of it holds together as a single work in the end. If you pulled out any single song and added to a mixtape of other related material, you’d notice very quickly that they’re all great songs. Put together, they sound like a dimly lit museum of curios. Apart, they’re solid pop songs. I will say this. Of all the Drugdealer’s in the world, he’s the Drugdealerest.
Effortless yet chic, Drugdealer embodies the upside of ennui here with boundless charm.
A few times now, I’ve come close to nominating for Off Your Radar consideration a curious album that became one of my favorites from 2018. Credited to Beltway Recording Company and billed as a compilation of songs released by a defunct D.C. label, Outer Sounds From The Inner Loop was actually the work of a single Richmond-based musician named Taylor Grant. It’s not what it says it is, yet it’s so much more — an exercise in bending authorship that made for dynamite music, regardless of how you dole out the writing credits. (Apologies to last week’s #GiveCredit-themed blurb.) The End Of Comedy may not boast the same sort of smoke-and-mirror setup, but something tells me Taylor Grant and Michael Collins would appreciate one another’s sense of humor. I love the misdirection that kicks off Collins’ debut album as Drugdealer — the way “Theme From Rockaway” sets us up to expect more steamy late-night jazz, while “The Real World” (pun intended?) tosses that expectation out the window with jangly guitars that blind you with how sunny they seem by comparison. But The End Of Comedy is not defined by jagged transitions or disconnection. Quite the opposite — the album scans as a beautifully executed meditation on the place Collins calls home, from the warmth of the phaser-inflected flute folk in “Were You Saying Something?” to the cinematic nature of the instrumental interlude that follows, “Theme For Alessandro.” I’ve never been to Los Angeles, but it’s easy to envision each track as a distinct take on what the city sounds like, especially given the team of L.A.-based collaborators Collins worked alongside to create The End Of Comedy. It may end in manic-sounding manipulated laugher, but my appreciation for this album is as sincere as it gets.
What a peculiar space this record occupies. Sonically, it’s a throwback for sure, but one that commits to the spirit of yesteryear… even if that yesteryear isn’t exactly easy to pin down. Sounds and melodies from 1954 to 1964 to 1974 can be heard here, with Beatle-esque tones, classic singer-songwriter sways, and smoky club segues all popping in and out of the spotlight. Some linger more than others, letting your brain ultimately make the call as to what exactly it sounds like, though “what it sounds like” can be ultimately be summed up as “obscure vinyl.” The music here is fascinating, as are the lyrics (“I’m in love with laughter” from “The End Of Comedy” is endlessly endearing), but really, my mind drifts cinematically while I listen to this record. Here, in my fantastical daydream, Wes Anderson reimagines Todd Phillips’ Joker. Obviously the title, The End Of Comedy, could inform the latter’s inclusion, or even the cackling outro of “The End,” but there’s also this maudlin energy and subtle unrest behind nearly every track on the record (“Suddenly” and “Sea Of Nothing” to name a few) that really speaks to Joaquin Phoenix’s fated portrayal of the clown prince. But gone are the slight horror nods or the overly agitated angst that runs amok through that film. And Wes Anderson? Well, the sort of “time capsule” feeling of the music seems especially germane to many of his films (and this impeccable SNL parody), but there’s also a sense of whimsy in the melody here, one that often runs through his films at the oddest time. Hand to God, I think Wes himself would fall out of his seat when first listening to the la-la-la melodies of “My Life” or “Easy To Forget,” only to pick himself up and begin crafting scenes upon which to unleash these jingling earworms. It’s a fun space to wonder about — the innate chaos of a character like the Joker frolicking in the world of Wes Anderson — and Drugdealer’s music provides a perfect score, as well as so much more for a daydreaming fan of visual and sonic art.
House Of GVSB by Girls Against Boys
Chosen By Darryl Wright