“Roll” tosses you onto a featherbed of chill without so much as mussing your hair.
“Roll” tosses you onto a featherbed of chill without so much as mussing your hair. And yet the song also quivers with a fidgety unease, and therein, to my ears, lies the depth and distinction. It’s easy enough (although not really) to lay down a smooth beat and offer up some whispery vocals and call it a day. “Roll” starts there but heads into more stimulating corners. An initial hint is found in the bass line, in the way its staccato bursts at the beginning of each measure melt into mellower iterations at the back end. It’s a nuanced, subtly unsettling effect.
Then there are lyrical phrases, which, when rising to the listener’s awareness, do not exactly say “Let’s party,” for instance, the opening salvo: “If you want to take me out, shoot to kill,
You better burn this city down.” And probably best of all, there’s a saxophone, and the kind that sounds like the player is standing underneath a streetlight on a moonless night. Notice how it slips all but unnoticed into the background at 0:42, initially providing only muted accents before, one-third of the way in, the signature riff is blown (1:15), instantly turning the song’s introductory motif, originally laid out on synth, into something nearly heroic. Of course this was made to be a sax riff. And yet who would have anticipated that at the beginning?
Work Drugs, previously featured on Fingertips in March 2015, is the duo of Tom Crystal and Ben Louisiana (although live the band expands to four or five). Based in Philadelphia (second Philly band of the month here; go Eagles), these guys are awfully hard-working for being so mellow: “Roll” is a song from their eighth full-length album, Method Acting, released in August. Their first album came out in 2011; you do the math.
You can check out their entire catalog on Bandcamp. Alternatively, you can listen to a whole bunch of Work Drugs songs on their SoundCloud page; many of them are available there as free and legal downloads.
Just about as irresistible as chillwave comes.
Recycling the slick grooves of the late ’70s and early ’80s through 21st-century digital noodling has given birth to an entire (sort of) genre which has in recent years been as cutting-edge hip in pop music circles as the original music had been deemed hopelessly passé for a good 20 years or more. Funny that.
But there’s no denying the allure of this stuff, and “Chase the Night” strikes me just about as irresistible as chillwave comes. Equal parts sultry beat and soaring melody, the song transcends the genre’s robotic drift via some canny songwriting chops: both the verse and the chorus have two distinct sections, the second in each case building on the first in subtle but ear-grabbing ways. In the case of the verse, the melody changes from ascending to descending at the midway point and now comes at us in double time (0:30); the chorus, meanwhile, likewise goes double-time about halfway through, adding a lower-register counter-melody (1:03) after opening more anthemically.
And the boys of Work Drugs aren’t done there. We get a short, foggy bridge that floats near a kind of vocal manipulation that tips its hat towards commercial pop, but fades as quickly and curiously as it arose, and then leads into the song’s last two, disarming sections: first (2:35), the chorus, now presented in a new, minimal setting that accentuates the appeal of both the melody and of the human voices singing it; second (2:55), an out-of-the-blue, honest-to-goodness guitar solo, which sounds beautifully in context even as it was the last thing I might have expected. (Repeat listens to the song have since revealed a guitar hiding in plain sight in the back of the mix in the chorus, but without the closing solo, I’d never have picked it out.)
Work Drugs is the bizarrely prolific Philadelphia-based duo of Thomas Crystal and Ben Louisiana. They have been recording since 2011, and their forthcoming album, Louisa, will be their seventh full-length. I’m not even sure how that happens. The band performs live as a five-piece. “Chase the Night” is from Louisa, and can be downloaded as an MP3 in the usual method, above, or you can visit the band’s SoundCloud page and grab it there as a higher-definition .wav file. Lots of other songs available there as well. Thanks to the band for the MP3.