On one of my digging expeditions, I strolled into a dusty Brooklyn store prepared to loot them for all my favorites, and they had a lot of 45s to go through. (45s are great because most record collectors focus on LPs so there’s less competition and hence they’re often very affordable.) Up front was a box of new arrivals. Flipping through, this single’s colorful logo typography and cute daschund illustration caught my eye.
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.)