Sermon at the Drug Church

god, he’s indifferent and nobody cares

Drug Church’s 2018 album Cheer fucking rips. The album is the first Drug Church I’ve ever heard and I’m blown away. The hooks are sharp. The vocals are raw. And the cohesive world the album paints is real and dark. The album presents a series of portraits of the way life screws people over, their mistakes worsen the situation, and the reactions to the these twin vises: self-destruction or authoritarian tendencies.

“Grubby” opens the album and the first couplet sets the tone of the next 30 minutes: “two months behind on rent now/smile broad and they forgive you.” This song outlines the thematic basis for the world of Cheer: life is hard and we’re fucking up trying to scrape by. “Strong References” continues this theme and pits a cheery, melodic open against heavy guitars as the song draws on. Scraping by is again depicted in lyrics about undressing and the singalong refrain, “I was young and needed the money.”

The album dips into a series of songs about depression and coping with it, which feature some of the most heavy-hitting lyrics but less impactful instrumentation. “Avoidarama” has some of the most cleaned-up vocals on the album (a misfire, I think) but that’s somewhat counterbalanced by brutal lyrics about depression and avoiding friends that want to reconnect. “Dollar Story” depicts a depressed life in a grimy apartment and the narrator’s “high risk” outbursts to cope.

Cheer comes up out of that musical slump with “Unlicensed Guidance Counselor.” The song describes how the momentum of small mistakes can build into near-suicidal self-destructive impulses and the so-true-it-hurts refrain, “If you live long enough/you’ll do something wrong enough/that you’ll feel shame enough/to say enough’s enough.” (God damn!)

“Weed Pin” tells a story of benevolent fuckups still leading to the same failure that the malevolent mistakes “Guidance Counselor” did. A new employee makes a crucial error at their job and after being fired realizes it’s “hard to choose a career when you’re bad at everything.” “Weed Pin” is in the bottom half of the album for me–mostly because musically it’s a bit boring–but the line “fuck you at 12:50 an hour” SLAPS. It also goes great with the track’s earlier “pay shit rates, get shit labor.”

“Unlicensed Hall Monitor” is the song that first hooked me into Cheer with those high-energy guitars and supremely topical lyrics. The venom seeping out of the line “telling you how to live” in reference to a dude who chats it up with Klansmen is incredible. In the context of the whole album, “Hall Monitor” is the first look at another response to the dark fates individuals face: not self-destruction, but authoritarianism. This song also ends with the tragically apt refrain, “man it makes me sick to sing this.”

Like “Weed Pin,” “Foam Pit” focuses on another facet of society that drives individuals into a corner: the job market. The song is a quick snapshot of the obsequiousness and self-erasure that’s required to find a job in 2018. And I gotta call out that riff after the hard-hitting line, “at least there’s some self in self-destruction!” That shit is absolutely nasty and I love it.

“Conflict Minded” is probably the grimmest, lowest point of the album, thematically. The narrator is adversarial and in a fighting, destructive mood. It’s pure self-destruction, the other end of the extreme represented in “Hall Monitor.” I’m reminded of the line that ends “Foam Pit” about self-destruction: at least there’s self in it. Halfway through, the song transitions into a guest vocalist crooning about their lack of shame, reinforcing that unapologetic approach of self-destruction with a blast radius.

“Conflict Minded” slides directly into the opening instrumental of “Tillary,” a song slightly less vicious musically but one that shows a lesser version of the authoritarian mindset presented in “Hall Monitor” in which a taste of power can drive a small person to twisting the screws on others just to feel in control.

There’s a line in “Tillary” that ties together some thematic elements of the album pretty nicely: “the brutal truth of the thing/is you need control to feel free.” Faced with a life that they were never in control of due to fate and/or one’s own bad decisions, even a modicum of power is a way of reclaiming some sense of ownership over outcomes. There’s power over others, and there’s the power over self. And power is the only way to feel in control, the only way to distract from the fact that your life is effectively a random series of occurrences with at-best minimal input from you.

Cheer is a raw, brutal album. Musically and lyrically it coalesces thematically into a portrait of the grimness of life. We all make mistakes, and we all are buttressed by the winds of fate. How do we react? In Cheer‘s world, the only response is destruction, either of yourself or of others. It’s an amazing album, and I’m completely enamored with it.