The mastermind of Better Pills is Brent Gorton, a terribly talented songwriter, musician, and recording engineer from my hometown, Albany, New York. Alongside another gifted songwriter, Aaron Smith, Gorton has roots in The Stars of Rock, an indie lo-fi duo that churned out hits in the late nineties and into the early aughts. Gorton has released music under a couple other monikers including Youth and the Drug Explosion, and “Valium” first appeared in 2014 as the opening track on Hiroshima Gift Shop. That version’s four-track flare and quirky vintage drum machine work made a lasting impression on me, but then all hell broke loose when Better Pills released Call the Local Cops, which consists entirely of an April 2016 practice session that included the raucous version of “Valium” presented here. (Don’t let the word ‘practice’ fool you: both the performances and recordings on Call the Local Cops are masterful from start to finish.)
Great art comes in all shapes and sizes. Yes, great art can even be bad. In this author’s humble opinion, one thing that makes art great is the amount of joy one can obtain from it, and in the case of “bad” music” — which is often accompanied by a “bad” video nowadays — how can one possibly deny the joy they get from laughing at it? What’s more, it is often the case that most “talented” artists couldn’t make something that bad even if they tried. At the end of the day, these “bad” artists have a rare talent whether they like it or not, and I hope they can come to terms with their offbeat abilities and eventually learn to embrace them.
Just as I was late to the party with the Beastie Boys, I was (very) late to the party with Black Sabbath. I didn’t catch the “classic rock wave” that all my friends jumped on in the summer between eighth and ninth grades. While looting my father’s record collection during college, I got into groups like Creedence Clearwater Revival, Jimi Hendrix, and Led Zeppelin, but I probably continued neglecting Black Sabbath simply because my Dad didn’t have any of their albums. Not too long after this though, I managed to land an original pressing of their debut self-titled for six bucks from Last Vestige, my local record store back in Albany (it was a green-label Warner Bros. U.S. pressing, for all your record nerds out there). While I sampled the title track for my own music around that time, it would be over a decade before I would explore their entire catalog.
I was in a thrift store in Florida when I first heard Fun’s “We Are Young” on the radio in March 2012. I don’t think I would have paid it any attention under most circumstances, but on this particular occasion two teenage girls were standing nearby singing along. (As a DJ, you learn to pick up on social cues like this in order to stay current with trends.) That song ultimately proved to be the band’s biggest hit but it didn’t do much of anything for me, and it would be over a year before “Some Nights”, the second single from the album of the same name, would grab my attention.
Albums don’t get more perfect than Best Coast’s 2010 full-length debut Crazy for You. There is not a single dud or mediocre track on it, and it is extremely unique and consistent in its sound, mood, and vibe. Above all, the album’s sonic signature sets it apart, that ultra-warm, analog, lo-fi sound, which recording engineer Lewis Pesacov is in all likelihood most responsible for. (One perk of making a blog is that I find out cool shit like this that I normally wouldn’t have.) Pesacov takes producer credit for the album on his website. Technically he’s not given that credit in the album’s liner notes, but his claim to that title is what makes me think he’s the sound’s main architect. Specifically, the choices for reverb speak to much of that sound’s character. Bethany Cosentino’s vocals have some really lovely ‘60s sounding reverb on them, and the guitars often have a nice vintage spring ‘verb as well.
In March 1996, just as the melting snow was making way for spring in upstate New York, I discovered the Beastie Boys as a high school sophomore, finally. Jeremy Smith, who would later be known as DJ Angel Hands, was my best friend and lived down the street. He knew I liked rap (only rap at that point in my life) so he made me a tape of all the rap songs on Check Your Head and Ill Communication. I remember playing that tape on a bulky General Electric Walkman tucked into an oversized black jean jacket that I borrowed from a friend who was far more into the likes of Nirvana and Green Day.
For the inaugural post of my new blog, I have chosen to feature a song that is very near and dear to me. Better Pills’ “Valium” addresses the complications of a life on benzodiazepines, and the band delivers a sincere performance that is equal parts comforting and exhilarating.