Drug Church’s 2018 album Cheer was frequently referred to as their slickest and most polished album, one that saw the band ascend to further heights of popularity. In typically sardonic fashion, frontman Patrick Kindlon attributed this newfound sheen to simply “people giving you money”. Whilst adding these cleaner studio textures certainly contributed to Cheer’s success, the underlying off-beat songwriting that made it really tick had always been in Drug Church’s locker. Cheer just added a shiny new layer of gloss.
Like many others before them, the band then faced a dilemma: stick or twist? Double down on the things that worked so well last time, or try to take another leap forward? Rather shrewdly, Hygiene sees Drug Church attempt both. Their fourth album sees the five-piece further utilizing the huge guitar tones and earworm vocal melodies that peppered Cheer while pushing the intelligent songwriting further into resplendent accessibility.
This album is simultaneously massive and claustrophobic. Everything is tightly controlled, the riffs are precise, simple, and unflashy, but the songs also often err towards massive, anthemic bombast. It’s a fascinating dichotomy, one that reaps some enormous rewards. Last year’s Tawny EP pointed into this direction of Drug Church’s future. Those four tracks make for an ideal prelude/companion piece to Hygiene, which is likewise bright, sharp, focused, and short. Hygiene is only 29 minutes long, but it makes remarkable use of this focused brevity.
Drug Church have a real knack for doing a lot with very few ingredients. The muscular, two-riff hardcore track “World Impact” takes a conventional song structure and injects it with subtle flair and variation, all within the space of just over two minutes. “Million Miles of Fun” is almost the same length but the spatial opposite – all huge guitars, booming drums, and some of Kindlon’s cleanest vocals. Again, it deconstructs our understanding of song structure but in such a brief and effervescent flurry that you hardly notice it.
This off-kilter, bracingly-unique tone is Drug Church’s not-so-secret weapon. Whether or not the band can be classed as “postmodern punk” is another debate for another time. However, one can draw a clear comparison between their unorthodox chord progressions, wonky guitar tones, and sardonic mood and with postmodernism’s deconstructive approach to artistic creation.
Kindlon’s inventive lyrics delve deeper than those on Cheer, perpetually digging into some multi-layered and knotty ideas. “Detective Lieutenant’s” musings on meaning and self-referentiality are prime postmodernist concerns, as are the lyrics of the densely cryptic and perspective-shifting “Premium Offer”. It would be wrong to say that Drug Church are the first punk band ever to broach this aesthetic territory, but few have done it with such verve and lucidity.
The album finishes with its strongest track, “Athlete on Bench”. This is Hygiene’s most emotionally-engaging moment. Everything about it screams bittersweet: the affecting melodies, urgent pace, and brutally-honest lyrics. It’s like staring at the sun: overwhelmingly beautiful but causes some serious damage. Drug Church’s ability to pull off this multiplicity deserves huge praise. In doing so, they’ve bent the aging punk and hardcore genre into new shapes whilst also becoming tighter, sharper, and more accessible. Long may their enigmatic, thrilling rise continue.