What I’m listening to: Work Drugs

Everything you’ve heard about Work Drugs is true.  For example, Philly’s premier boating and yachting band does, in fact, occasionally write songs while on boats; their smooth, seductive grooves have also been known to incite public sex-ing (or so we’ve heard...the photos in question never actually surfaced.) It’s all in a day’s work for these DIY mavens, who since forming in late 2010 have released 4 records, and amassed over 40,000 listeners on Last.fm—and have no plans of slowing down soon.

“We don't have a label, or booking agent, or manager trying to keep us from releasing music... which is liberating in a way,” says 1/2 founding duo, Thomas Crystal (note: super chill name) via e-mail. “As soon as we finish a new song that we feel is up to our own quality standards, we usually release it as a single.  I think some people in the ‘business’ are afraid of our approach, but we aren't worried about that.  It's a playlist nation. ... Frankly, there is never a good or bad time to put out your music. If you feel good about it and you feel that it's quality, put it out.”

The band’s ability to churn out sweet jamz quickly is clearly one ingredient to their success; the other, then, is their ability to capture a lifestyle: that thrives under twinkling disco lights and is not afraid to indulge materialism.

The brainchild of Crystal and Benjamin Louisiana, Work Drugs rose to prominence in early 2011, winning attention from local bloggers, radio stations, and (soon after), Two Door Cinema Club, who invited the band to join them on tour in Spring 2011. Their effortless, dance-y  grooves endeared them to the chillwave crowd—but it soon became clear that Work Drugs were more than a trendy band with a cool name. Rather, they succeed by portraying a mood and a mindset: a cool, sexy calm to be sure, but punctuated by moments of high-stakes indulgence. On new record Absolute Bearing, this duality is highlighted... resulting in a smooth listen that feels achingly genuine.

“I like to think a lot of the themes and stories within the songs [on Absolute Bearing] are a bit more specific than on earlier albums,” explains Crystal. “We've drawn a lot more from personal storylines and sailing experiences rather than some of the vague ideas and plots laid out on the Summer Blood and Aurora Lies albums.  In general I think this album is absolutely more revealing of who we are as a band and which bearing we could be potentially taking the music.” (Did I mention they’re hilarious too?)

Bearing kicks off with “Perfect Storm,” a swirling mix of hazy beats and lyrics that insist “I’m drowning in you.” The idea of love as something larger-than-life and potentially destructive recurs throughout—from  “Pluto”’s insistence that “we’re never going to make it out alive” to the title track’s obsession with a lost lover (“the funeral couldn’t change my mind,” the boys croon.) Focus on just the beats, and it’s easy to miss this undercurrent of turmoil. Let it sink in, and the songs suddenly swarm with the beauty of destruction—like the climax scene of a Wes Anderson flick, where the action slows down and is presented as a meaningful sequence.

Of course, love is not the only thing the inhabitants of Work Drugs’ world indulge in: Bearing also teems with references to fast cars (“I’ve got a license to drive...just teenage excuses and crystalline lies”), sex (“anonymous blood and carnal gains”), drugs (“our love is buried in cocaine...sin pays”) and consumerism ( “bills were made to burn”; “all you’ll ever know is what you buy”)—and young people who would rather live fast and die young than fade away.

And in the end, that’s what makes it so powerful. Absolute Bearing—while based in reality—is ultimately a fantasy: where the lights are always dim and pulsing, the crowd always buzzed and unfairly attractive—and where emotions wash over you like a wave, steeped in the transcendence of the moment.  You don’t need drugs to achieve this feeling—you only need Work Drugs.

Scoop up Absolute Bearing via Bandcamp, then catch Work Drugs live August 31 at Johnny Brenda’s.

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