Monday 17 September 2012

The Pharmacy - Stoned & Alone

Album review by KevW

The Pharmacy? 'Stoned & Alone'? Long hair, denim jackets and shades? Could it be that these Seattle-based guys like a bit of garage rock 'n' roll and psychedelia, maybe accompanied by the odd jazz cigarette from time to time? This is the trio's fourth album since switching from east (Washington state) to west and they're as partial to a little rock 'n' roll myth making as anyone. Just think how many bands have claimed their recording sessions were haunted by the ghost of Bob Marley/John Lennon/Jimi Hendrix and so on. Well the story behind 'Stoned & Alone' is that the thirteen songs were mostly written on tour, a near permanent occupation for The Pharmacy, who sustained injuries after adopting an abandoned couch off the streets of New Orleans. As you do. The most intriguing stab at myth making (and it could be true for all we know) is that some of the piano parts were recorded in a church on an island off the coast of Washington, and that whilst there they discovered the priest's stash of weed behind the pulpit. We'll leave you to be the judge.

The stories are essentially irrelevant as it's the music that does the talking, and the music on 'Stoned & Alone' doesn't try to be anything it's not, it doesn't need trendy tales to make it interesting and it probably doesn't try and convince you that it's been contacted by the spirit of Gram Parsons. On paper this album bears all the hallmarks of a good, old fashioned garage/psych record, and to a point it is. There's more going on than that though, and despite a few rock clich├ęs, the music isn't contrived or try-hard and it's not a case of imitating similarly-minded groups from the past. It's retro in sound for sure, we're talking traditional band set up, standard song construction for the most part, and tracks that hover around the two-minute mark. Yet this record is as much about pop tunes as studied cool.

Diversity isn't a word you'll find in many descriptions of this album, with an automatic setting of garage-pop for nearly the entire package. 'Sure' toys with 12-bar country-blues, 'Josephene' is a mixture of Latin and indie sounds and most aspects of 60s pop are incorporated somewhere, from the organ-led garage thrash of 'Dig Your Grave' to the Merseybeat of 'Your Eyes', the Northern Soul-influenced 'Bring You Down', the warped doo-wop of 'Lazy Bones' and flirtations with surf throughout. The Pharmacy wear their influences on their standard issue rock band sleeves, but they've chosen those influences well. Where they really come into their own is in not being afraid of being themselves. Because writing pop songs and allowing them to remain as pop rather than be contorted into something they're not is way more cool than all of the fakers out there who are trying to be The Rolling Stones. The Pharmacy are trying to be The Pharmacy, and that's exactly the way it should be.

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