The Pharmacy’s previous album, Weekend was an album with a (somewhat loose) goal in mind. It wasn’t an album with overarching high aspirations, nor one that wouldn’t fit in with garage rock’s carelessness, but it was an album for which they took a creative risk. Leaving their hometown of Seattle, the band rented a house in New Orleans and recorded to a 4-track. Not necessarily lofty concepts here, but considering that their prior album, Choose Yr. Own Adventure, was pretty well-produced, the decisions leading up to Weekend were a point when the band decidedly tried something different(ish). The result was one of The Pharmacy’s strongest albums, and for a band so obviously indebted to The Kinks, it felt like they’d taken their highly crafted garage maximalism back a couple fidelity notches and stripped some excess while making a very good-sounding album. It wasn’t that they tried to crash the Lola/Arthur plane, but rather kick out some of the excess passengers and their baggage. It’s one of those albums that manages to contend with their higher fidelity work by forcing a focus onto the songs themselves. In some cases lo-fi is for the sake of sounding shitty, but Weekend was an album that didn’t feel limited by its limitations, or dirty for the sake of being dirty.
You’re probably wondering why I’m going on about the wrong album, but every point regarding Weekend’s strength highlights Stoned & Alone’s weakness. Returning to Seattle and recording the album in a stretch of six days, the results feel uninspired and muddy. Weekend was recorded leisurely, and while under a week could be a limitation for some bands, The Pharmacy are a band that plays together very well; six days might have been too long for them. It was leisure that became what feels like Weekend’s daunting anxiety, and it’s the return to the familiar that makes Stoned & Alone feel so unambitious. For an album loosely about being high and insecure, Weekend feels more stoned and alone than Stoned & Alone does. The effect is almost immediate: two tracks in and it’s a bunch of songs recorded at singles length (longest being 3:02), fighting for attention with each other to basically be the exact same damn song. It’s no doubt that The Pharmacy do something well, or that they know how to make a catchy song, but they seem so unsure of what do outside of that which makes Stoned & Alone so shrug-worthy. Stoned & Alone boasts of a well-trained producer (Brandon Eggleston, whose work includes Modest Mouse, tUnE-yArDs, Les Savy Fav, The Mountain Goats), the use of Nirvana’s Twin Reverb amplifier, piano parts recorded in a Methodist church, and a whole album’s worth of insipid songs.
The act of doing something different for one album can create an anxiety that follows to the next album. Often, the reaction of that anxiety produces either great works or glorious failures. In the case of Stoned & Alone, a full-born, burned-out, explosively utter failure would have been better than the “meh”-sandwich that is this album. In today’s garage rock, ambitions often disguise themselves as non-ambitions, irreverence, or deliberate self lowbrow-ing. But going back into a studio to work with a producer and to do things the “proper” way (what seem like obvious steps for your average band), to re-clean up your already relatively clean act, is a surefire way to water down a garage/psych pop album, natch.