[28 July 2009]
When the historians make their final account of the neo-psychedelic movement, Drug Rug’s Paint the Fence Invisible should stand as an important album, a signpost of roughly when the genre imploded.
Or to employ another metaphor, the overcrowded post-music industry indie-rock scene has begun to cannibalize itself. Gorged on the flesh of second-(and third-) generation roots and psychedelic rock, the latest in the genre are, in a way, too relevant—hyper-aware of their own hype and their connections to acts that have risen from blog-darling status to that weird in-between place where Rolling Stone reviews your albums but most of the world still doesn’t know who the hell you are (see also Wolf Parade, Cotton Jones, and Wild Light).
Seven songs into the flower-power revivalists’ sophomore record, we have “Noah Rules”, in which Drug Rug pastes the Mamas and the Papas’ vocal harmonies onto an Eastern chord progression. At more than five minutes, it’s the longest song on Paint the Fence Invisible, symptomatic of the album’s most crucial problems: too much and, simultaneously and somewhat paradoxically, much too little.
Throughout the album, Drug Rug—Thomas Allen and Sarah Cronin—shows glimpses of a pop sensibility, but it can’t make up its mind if it wishes to traffic in three-minute foot-tappers or drawn-out drones. Unlike contemporaries including, say, Dr. Dog, which trumps novelty with the sheer impact and grit of its songs, Drug Rug gets stuck somewhere between the ’60s and the late-oughts revival without adding much to the conversation. So it’s nothing that hasn’t been done before. Heck, it’s nothing that hasn’t been done before by bands that weren’t doing anything that hadn’t been done before.
At times, like on “Don’t Be Frightened by the Devil”, there’s the core of a good song sabotaged by everything-but-the-kitchen-sink indie-rock tendencies, like piling on cooing female vocals, sleigh bells, and echoed pitched percussion. Such over-layering can hide a bad song, but on tunes like “Don’t Be Frightened by the Devil”, it unfortunately clouds a good one beyond recognition.
The schizophrenia is apparent from the beginning. Opener “Never Tell”—“California love is making it hard to believe”, Drug Rug sings —features calliope organ kitsch and Creedence Clearwater Revival guitars. “Hannah Please”, however, gives us an Arcade Fire-like introduction of pounding tom-toms and “ooh oohs” before a garage-rock Farfisa organ joins in. In “Coffee in the Morning”, Drug Rug tackles male-female swoony vocals in the AM radio tradition. The song would work as a standalone. But here, at this point, it gets lost in Paint the Fence Invisible‘s mishmash of genres and sounds.
It’s that lost-without-a-map feeling that makes “Passes On” and “Sooner the Better” frustrating listening exercises, like a compelling scene in a movie that has thus far been one overwrought pretentious gimmick after the next. Understand, though, that neither “Passes On” nor “Sooner the Better” are great songs. “Passes On” does boast a jubilant guitar-led run near its end, but it suffers from random editing before that. “Sooner the Better”, which pulls back some of the trying too hard, fares better and achieves the wistfulness Drug Rug sounds like it’s attempting to reach in other tracks.
But, when you’re looking for decent songs just to justify the inclusion of unpleasing ones, you’ve already made a decision about the album’s quality.