Wearing a black t-shirt, the slightly socially awkward teen sidled up to one of the poster booths at the Flatstock event and asked, “Do you have any posters with dragons?” It was priceless. Not only because the booth at which he was standing had no trace of anything remotely having to do with `fantasy art,’ but also because it was just such a predictable geeky teen thing to ask. Not to say that there weren’t any posters at the event that had dragons. In fact, I’m sure there were a few. But, I’m positive that this teen wasn’t using visual clues to determine which booth was more likely to have them. This actual event reminded me of my own preteen and teenager days. We all do it. We all look at the obnoxious youngsters making scenes in malls or on street corners and think to ourselves, “I was never like that, was I?” And if not obnoxious, replace that word with any number of unflattering adjectives such as nerdy, weird, dweeb-like, or especially awkward. My own younger days are no exception.
My strongest memories of fourth and fifth grade are filled with images of my K-8 school. I remember playing tetherball on the playground or listening to seemingly illicit songs like the J. Geils Band’s “Centerfold” on a contraband pocket radio. I remember either playing or at least plotting Dungeons & Dragons adventures in the school library, futzing meticulously over sheets and sheets of graph paper. And, I remember the Scholastic book order forms. Every month or so, every kid would get an order form from the Scholastic book company and would be able to buy some of the latest and greatest young reader books available. Of course, at that time, the best were the books in the “Choose Your Own Adventure” series. So it was with great fondness for the past that I approached the new album by Seattle band, the Pharmacy, cheekily named after that book series.
I say cheekily because the album’s title, as you can see, uses the `indie hipster’ spelling of `Your,’ (i.e. `Yr’). That type of nostalgic juxtaposition can pretty much sum up the album as a whole. The Pharmacy’s songs are difficult to pin down. There’s certainly a `garage’ aspect to them, very D.I.Y. and delightfully sloppy at times, especially in the realm of vocals. Then again, there are moments of musical agility that belie those less polished vocals. Tight and strong guitar riffs, glorious string sections and joyful harmonies are sprinkled throughout the album generously. You’ll find difficulty keeping a smile from your mug upon listening to the sing-song aspects of “Black Ice Cream” or the Modest Mouse meets Footloose soundtrack aspects of “Mirror.” There are times, however, when the aromas of the past seem a bit strong as they become overpowering stenches that can’t be waved away with a mere brush of the hand, such as the over the top ’80s keyboards in “Tropical Yeti,” a song previously released as a 7-inch for Tic Tac Totally records. Similarly, “Warm and Untorn” sounds like a lost Schoolhouse Rock segment.
Like They Might Be Giants, the Unicorns, Ween or Kimya Dawson (who coincidentally uses the Pharmacy as a backing band), the Pharmacy play playful yet polarizing tunes. Whereas some tracks, as the ones listed above, can create immediate and visceral reactions that will ultimately fade, there are others, like “My Friends” or “Little Toys on the Shelf” that are, in contrast, incredibly rich and ripe for multiple listens. Just as Kimya Dawson’s songs seem rooted in that charming aspect of the innocence of youth and young love, the songs of the Pharmacy take strength from those tweener days of yore. Even the CD’s packaging is straddling the divide between the trappings of young geekdom and the more recent past’s `indie cool.’ Graph paper backgrounds are filled with imagery similar to an updated version of Sgt. Pepper’s collage-like cover and the Unicorns’ bubbly font. All that seems to be missing from this album is a free “Wacky Wallwalker” and a pack of either “Lik-m-Aid” or “Big League Chew.”
Daniel Johnston- Fun
Various Artists- Schoolhouse Rock! Rocks
The Unicorns- Who Will Cut Our Hair When We’re Gone?
Video: “Little Toys on a Shelf”