Lovedrug | Pretend You’re Alive (Columbia)

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It’s not so often that a band produces a record on a mid-sized indie label and then is asked by another, larger company to make a go of it again, especially when the band has been together less than three years. Lovedrug’s hauntingly ass-kicking album is such a special case, going from Militia (the company’s fastest selling album in its history) to Columbia within one year’s time.

In the vein of The Bends and Absolution with its balance of raw intensity and groove, beauty and experimentation noise, these songs stretched my ears in the way I always wish for when putting in a record. While I enjoyed it the first time, it had a tweak of unsettling and unfamiliar nuances. By the fifth listen, it had become a part of me.

The uplifting and dark rock riffs are huge and flow with urgency as lead singer Michael Shepard squeezes out a beautifully strange tone—a child caught in his stepparent’s basement. “Black Out,” the second track, reminiscent of “You Might Be Wrong” with its anthem guitar bounce and almost unnoticeable odd time signature, is pure gold. “Spiders,” perhaps the album’s most guaranteed radio hit, brings the rock down, but only slightly, with an intro of just Shepard and acoustic guitar through the first chorus. The second verse kicks in with such confident and buoyant tones that soaring to the moon is the only option. This song then does what is perhaps the most difficult thing in pop music: hits the satisfying chorus without being obvious. Somehow the transition is seamless—a silky wave. Even the transition to the next song is sweet butter, with the beautiful new vocal line release and then the quarter-second pause before the gritty “RocknRoll” kicks in with a guitar slide and then the full-band throttle toward glory.

Another twist comes in the solid title track with the introduction of piano, which furthers the sophistication and richness of this band’s palette. It’s a slower, dreamy tune: “Watch angels in the morning become a devil’s afternoon.” The piano returns again in “Down Towards the Healing” with an additionally dreamy quality, but this one brings it up a notch in intensity with a delightful surprise ending: a shift to minor of a progression that we’ve just got comfortable with in major. “Pandamoranda,” the hardest-hitting tune, is enthralling. With the feedback lead-in and the unison intro that follows, it is massive and infectious. The verses alternate between big and small, then floor back to that intro line in the chorus, but with Shepard soaring high above. They pack a lot of changeups into a mere 2:46, with some bold, noisy, and intense passages that with collective cohesion divert from the path and make it so satisfying.

The finish on this epic spin captures us with intense jam at the end of track 12 and then the final track brief release of just Shepard and piano in “Paper Scars.” The magic potion of mystique, rock, and beauty is indeed alive, and Lovedrug is surely not pretending.

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