OK, I have to admit that I am totally perplexed by how much I enjoy Work Drugs and their latest release, Absolute Bearing. I don’t get invited to parties much nor do I have a lot of friends in the city I currently live in, so my diet of “party” music is rather low. I am an obnoxiously high-strung dude, so chillwave, one of the most subdued and rhythmically relaxed forms of music out there, is not necessarily the type of music I would initially gravitate towards. That all being said and recorded for posterity, Work Drugs, a band who fashions themselves as the “premier Bat Mitzvah and Quinceanera party band” of Philadelphia, appeal to all of my senses, and their newest release is sort of a minor gem.
Absolute Bearing is one of those rare records that can be played at almost any party, any club, or any other gathering where people collect themselves together in order to have some semblance of fun. While there is nothing to distinguish Absolute Bearing from any of Work Drugs’s previous releases (and in fact Work Drugs have a bad habit of writing the same song over and over again), the record still works as a sedated, tranquil call to enjoy life. Absolute Bearing oozes pseudo-1980s cool, especially with tracks titled such as “License to Drive.” That particular track is one of the brighter notes on Absolute Bearing. “License to Drive” is an ebullient, drum-driven track about the joys of being young, licensed, and careless. This sort of majestic imprudence is the hallmark of Work Drugs’s music. From older tracks such as “Dirty Dreams” to Absolute Bearing’s ridiculously cool “Boogie Lights,” Work Drugs have carved out a reputation for themselves as the masters of chillwave.
Not all of the tracks on Absolute Bearing work, however. “Lisbon Teeth” is a sort of out-of-tune synth snail reminding me one of the worst of James Pants. Vocalist Prance Rogers under-delivers on “Lisbon Teeth, while the production quality on the track stands out as particularly poor, especially when you compare it to the glossy “Coral Gables.” “Coral Gables” weaves in the traditional drum machine beats and jazzy guitar tones Work Drugs typically utilizes with the Greek chorus-like backing vocals that can be heard on “Rad Racer,” a pre-Absolute Bearing jam. The small guitar solo on “Coral Gables” is a heart-warming treat, too.
There’s something inherently sexy about “Coral Gables,” a song that deals with an estranged relationship about to derail. In fact, there’s something incredibly sexy about Work Drugs in general. Their songs drip with the fun and sunshine of summer, and yet there is a muted sadness in most of tracks on Absolute Bearing. Maybe it’s the chillwave ambiance, but several tracks on Absolute Bearing somehow mix the boisterous with the maudlin in ways that sound like if Ian Curtis had grown up in 1980s Miami. Incredibly, this odd mixture works well and I wouldn’t be surprised if Work Drugs became a major name soon.
Absolute Bearing will not change the world, nor will it make any “Top Records of the Year” list. It is an easily accessible record with breezy, mostly well-written tracks that are as easy to like as ice cream. While it is certainly guilty of repetition and the overall uninspiring nature of electro pop, Absolute Bearing successfully makes an already appealing genre that much more populist; anyone could pick up this record and feel the mellow groove. Absolute Bearing reminds everyone over eighteen they have a “License to Drive” and that means there’s a party awaiting everyone down any given stretch of summer highway.
1. Perfect Storm
2. License to Drive
3. Pluto (Zero Gravity High)
4. Boogie Lights
5. Absolute Bearing
6. Council Bluffs
7. Coral Gables
8. Lisbon Teeth
9. The Art of Progress
10. Tourist Heart