The Pile On couldn’t be better named. It contains nineteen songs (one hour and ten minutes total,) each stacked one directly on top of the other with hardly a pause or whole rest in between. The lack of segue between opener “No Touch, Bad Touch” and “Hold on, Son,” which begins loud and sharp while “Bad Touch” is still fading out, is sudden and startling, but these two inorganically-conjoined songs are among the best the band has written.
Blake Cormier’s vocals soar on “No Touch.” “You’re just what you say you are not,” he wails in between keyboard flourishes, as though he’s never been deceived. “Hold on Son,” delivered in Zach Dunlap’s stark, toneless voice, feels painful and immediate, a quarter-life anxiety crisis so personal that Dunlap even names himself in the lyrics. “Our Way out West” hones Cormier’s held notes into hooks and concludes the album’s top-heavy peak.
“On His Way Home” begins a mushy midsection by making an ill-advised mixture of Dunlap’s harsh ‘80’s post-punk vocals delivering stoner philosophy (“you gotta take it slow/ you gotta travel which way the wind blows”) and guest violinist Marcus Rubio’s vaguely fiddlish string arrangement (even hayseedier violins plague “San Francisco”).
From a technical standpoint, Cormier’s voice is of better quality, more forceful and with an actual octave range, though Dunlap’s untrained flatness is disarming and moving on “Scott Flaskerud,” which contemplates suicide from a detached third person perspective with affecting candor over primitive acoustic guitar strumming. And the tension between their voices is used to incredible effect on “Red Haired Girl,” where Dunlap’s lead is propelled past a garagey come-on by Cormier’s dynamic, melodramatic backup vocals. “It Still Hurts” finds a muddled proto-grunge groove, while “Too Much of My Love,” which comes in at nine and a half minutes long for some indiscernible reason, laments the time with family and friends lost in countless rehearsal hours before drifting into tinkling wind chimes, for the album’s only true breather. A 12-song album could’ve been stronger, but all that extra practice is apparently paying off.
Druggist’s CD release party, also featuring Yoshimoto and Blue Means Go, is Friday, January 16 at Limelight (myspace.com/limelightsa).