From The Inman Review Volume 1: Fall 2009
Arts & Culture
Paint the Fence Invisible
Drug Rug CD Release
by Jahn Sood
Like a psychedelic dream with flowers in her hair, Sarah Cronin takes the stage. She stands in the spotlight, smiling like she’s got a secret and plucks out the first arpeggiated chord of the Drug Rug CD Release show. After Mean Creek’s indiscriminate roar and the cacophony of crowd noise between sets, all are silenced by Cronin’s smooth angelic melody. A clear indicator that something great is at hand, all are relieved and mystified.
“Paint the fence invisible,” she sings. “You can with your mind. Find the world indestructible, show the world what you find.”
Despite the euphoric beginning, the show does not solely rely on beauty and magic, but soon rollicks into a joyous romp of energetic pop songs that are complex, yet danceable and packed with catchy tunes and guttural guitar riffs.
Drug Rug, fronted by Cronin and cohort Tommy Allen is an Inman based love-rock duo, backed by a solid rhythm section of close friends. While they do write lyrics proclaiming, “Its summer time and my love is by my side,” they prefer to avoid letting their affair be the White Stripes’ gimmick. I have promised Mr. Allen not to repeat the story of their first date, so if you’re looking for a romance novel you can check out most other Bostonian publications.
Allen and Cronin’s artistic partnership solidified in 2006 when after some time playing music, they posted a few songs on MySpace and started booking shows. Apollo Sunshine bassist and Inman resident Jesse Gallagher soon discovered these “Kitchen Tapes” and dragged his band mates out to see the gigs. Among the ranks was drummer Jeremy Black who in the height of his indy glory started Black & Greene Records and was on the search for new acts.
Not more than a year later, Drug Rug recorded their first album and moved to Inman Square where they spent long hours picking through Jesse’s record collection and writing songs between vanilla lattés from 1369.
In addition to Gallagher, who played on Drug Rug’s self-titled Black & Greene debut, Julian Carsanetti and Tulsa frontman, Carter Tanton, have been instrumental in the development of the charming duo into a syndicated rock band. Tommy still cites these friends and rhythm section regulars as major influences on his music. Both have helped Allen and Cronin arrange and perform their songs over the past three years. The recent release Paint the Fence Invisible is produced by Carsanetti and engineered by Tanton.
Drug Rug’s sophomore attempt is reminiscent of the age of psychedelia, sixties rock ranging from the Beach Boys surf with tight, syrupy harmonies to Jefferson Airplane’s anthemic acid pop. I would not be shocked to discover that “Sooner the Better,” one of the later tracks on the new album was a lost B-side from Lennon and Ono’s love-rock classic Double Fantasy.
Of course, Lennon is gone and the Jefferson is flying a new celestial craft. These sounds are vintage, retro, lingering from another time. I am listening to a new d(rug) band years after Hunter S. Thompson eloquently declared the end of American drug culture in 1971:
“We are all wired into a survival trip now. No more of the speed that fueled the Sixties. Uppers are going out of style. This was the fatal flaw in Tim Leary’s trip. He crashed around America selling ‘consciousness expansion,’ without ever giving a thought to the grim meat-hook realities that were lying in wait for all the people who took him seriously.”
While the music is familiar, lyrically Drug Rug’s new psychedelia does not look to before this collapse. Allen and Cronin are writing after the coming and going of Thompson’s realization and the falling out of American acid culture. The energy is still there with all the doo whop of the Sixties, but the message has changed.
In place of promises of enlightenment and cosmic awareness, Drug Rug starts with the ‘meat-hook realities.’ Through the paranoia, hopelessness and mundanity of life, going to work and drinking coffee, Allen and Cronin give us a path to move forward, means to resolve darkness into a transcendent positivism.
In songs like “Haunting You,” and “Don’t be Frightened by the Devil,” Allen takes the lead singing, “Don’t be taken by the devil, baby, it turns your yeses into maybes,” or “Save my only tears for when nobody’s here.” He voices a hesitation to face the world.
Tommy attributes his thoughts about haunting and the devil to a time when he felt an unexplained anxiety, something that seemed inside of him and had to be purged. He changed his lifestyle in a many ways even taking a temporary break from his beloved ‘coffee in the morning,’ and eventually produced these songs.
In answer to the seeming peril in Allen’s lyrics, Cronin’s melodic piping assures us: “Don’t be afraid, there’s nothing haunting you. / Know your love is here, despite the world so weird.” Every grim line that Allen lets out is unwoven by her beautiful voice, spilled through an epic reverb unit.
Watching from the outside, I can only hope that Cronin, with her neon yellow tassels and big hollow-body Gibson, is relief for the darkness and anxiety Allen mentions in his lyrics. Her high-voltage stage presence and reassuring declarations are certainly a relief to me. Sarah brings hope to Tommy’s anxiety, sonic beauty to his charming growl. Together, they promise love is near and we will make it through.
Using two distinct voices, Drug Rug acknowledges the darker realities of life then gives us the means to move past them. For all the lyrics about death and haunting, I left the Middle East show elated and sweaty for having danced for the whole night.
Drug Rug is not just another nihilist indy rock band nor do they succumb to the traps that destroyed their psychedelic forefathers. They have witnessed both and have created something new and uplifting.
Paint the Fence Invisible is available now from Black & Greene Records.
Jahn Sood is a writer and musician from Inman Square. After two years on tour with indy-pop quartet, Ezra Furman & the Harpoons, he took on a new prerogative: to revitalize the lost world of the Great American Circus. His folk opera on this theme, “The Disappearing Man & Other Sad Songs” has been performed in full in Cambridge and NYC and was featured at the Small Theater Alliance of Boston’s FeverFest09.