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Album Spotlight: Pharmacy Keys - 'Conjuress'


>>You won’t find a lot about the Pharmacy Keys online. They’re not big on maximizing their content. They don’t have a flashy website or a wildly engaging Instagram with professionally staged photos that try to make them look like their behaving naturally. These guys are nothing like that. They’re not here to impress you with social content because they don’t need to. They’re a rock and roll band and that’s all you need to know.

Hailing from Cleveland, Pharmacy Keys are Rust-Belt Rock. They sound like they belong in every city from St. Louis to Portland, Maine, a staple garage-bar rock band with catchy hooks and guitar fuzz dripping with the sweat of the 1990. It’s overdriven guitar-based rock riffs with melodic voices, brief harmonies, and catchy pop hooks. It’s good barbeque and beer music, with a friendly vibe and big open drums lines to tap your foot to.

The album opens up with minor chords on Baby Tonight. There’s a 90’s feel, a bit of Smoking Popes meets Radiohead and it instantly feels familiar and new at the same time. The song has subtle surprises, including a brief silence before heading into a breakdown with the song’s title. The guitar gently supports the melody and its actually kind of sweet, a lullaby with light beer bravado.

This is the band’s first full album but they’ve been together since 2017 and it shows. Every song feels natural and comes across as fun, like these guys can’t wait to play these songs every night, as much as for release as it is for cathartic necessity. The message in Executive Tans is slightly hidden underwater, but it’s there and dark, a little commentary on the American way of life, delivered with a tongue in cheek Fountains of Wayne kind of way.

There's a bit of a hidden darkness to the music and right now especially it feels welcome. Occasionally but well-placed minor chords heavy with reverb and chorus conjure the band playing in the darkest corner of your favorite local bar, the townies gathered around the pool table looking ominous yet uncharacteristically friendly. Crystal Cove will make you light a Marlboro, throw on a leather jacket, and ride your motorcycle outside of town. The familiarity of these songs is palpable and the radio friendly pop melodies and the vocals combined with a mellow speed are comforting and feel reliable.

It’s an evenly produced and well mixed first album. It perfectly suits the band and their style. Kudos to those behind the boards. Songs like Take the Cake are proof that mixing matters as much as the song as the blend of acoustic picking, electric riffs and a slide guitar are artfully put together. To add to it there’s a great song here, a melody driven song with a promising hook. Take the Cake is the clear frontrunner for the premier single and has gotten play on the radio in the Cleveland area.

Every Note a Symphony would be the close second for a premiere single. The hand claps are fun and combine with a spiffy guitar lick that sounds like middle American life, a modern take on Mellencamp, if he ranged toward the alternative rock stations. The song contains much more dynamics than some of the others and the abrupt end leaves you wanting to take another listen.

There’s further range with Al’s Vintage Triumph, a little Tweedy, a little Uncle Tupelo with a quick but enticing guitar solo towards the end, before the breakdown comes with “Kick God’s ass” and the guitar turns up and smacks you in the face, along with some driving drums riding the crash. You’re left with an organ to end the song on a single note.

Pharmacy Keys is proof positive that rock still exists without having to be mashed up in combination with several other genres to set themselves apart. It’s just solid reliable rock and roll that make you want to roll a smoke, pop the top on a Miller, and enjoy.

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