[DANCE-POP DELIRIUM] You only need to look at the cover of Fake Drugs' self-titled debut to realize the band doesn't take itself too seriously. The CD sleeve features NBA star Shaquille O'Neal, decked out in a flowing white robe, holding a panda bear. The image is striking and odd, yet also weirdly apropos for the band's dark, bouncy and very Hollywood dance pop songs.
Fake Drugs is the duo of Keil Corcoran and Shawn Glassford (best known as Starfucker's rhythm section), with live assistance from Guidance Counselor's Ian Anderson. But where Starfucker takes the pulse of dance music and applies it to sticky-sweet pop melodies, Fake Drugs dabbles in much heavier territory. Most of the nine songs here are propelled by keyboards that thump more than they hum and layers of dark bass. There's a certain humor to the band, like it always knows the punchline before you do. Corcoran sounds bratty and defiant on standout "Balancing Act," singing about missing his rum-and-Cokes in a slurred drawl reminiscent of !!!'s Nic Offer. Other songs are brash and funky ("Hover") and outfitted with laser noises and spacey Total Recall synths ("Tombs of Luxury"), but everything is held together by Glassford's four-on-the-floor beats and Corcoran's over-the-top delivery.
Like MGMT's breakthrough hit "Time to Pretend" and recent offerings by Of Montreal, the record is laced with lyrics (the refrain in "Hover" finds Corcoran singing the catchy and quasi-self-promotional line "let's buy some drugs") that likely have more to do with fantasy than reality. Still, even if its words are ironic, Fake Drugs' music is definitely no joke. The best tracks here—especially "Balancing Act" and "Relics"—have potential to cross over and become jams far outside of Portland. Just don't think too hard about what the lyrics mean. MICHAEL MANNHEIMER.
[OLD-SOUL FOLKIE] Songs like Mbilly's "Came Into a Little Bit of Money" are just low-key enough to go unnoticed in a town full of acoustic-guitar slingers. That would be a shame.
The tune, which finds Mbilly, a.k.a. William Helfrich, sounding a bit like Townes Van Zandt via Okkervil River's Will Sheff, is an anthem for the generation that never got its bailout. "Came into a little bit of money," he sings. "Tried to put some away/ Never had more than a handful/ Just living day to day." Before you know it, our protagonist is busted. When he finally pulls himself up by his bootstraps (by thieving, mostly), he's unwilling to lend a helping hand to anyone else, asking: "If I rescue them, will they ever learn?" It's a clear-minded parable, the kind Woody Guthrie used to spin—and Helfrich pulls it off without a trace of irony.
Helfrich, who has been working on Mister Nobody Baby for three years ("I have children; the process moves very slowly," he explained to fans via MySpace), writes songs—like striking, lazily paced opener "Mild Mannered Man" and the John Lennon-esque "Future Mother"—that contain both a plainspoken charm and a knack for communicating some deeper truth. If that's his great strength, his weakness (like Guthrie's) is that he sometimes has a little too much fun with the words ("Drawn to You" has a few of these moments, including one that compares Mbilly's clingy love to a dog's pursuit of "an asshole's smell").
Still, there's a deep well of great songs to pull from here, and the disc's three-year gestation period didn't leave it overproduced or cluttered. It's easy to hear that Helfrich believes in his songs—and even one notable song that's not his, "I Want You to Want Me." Covering that tune may sound like a bad idea, but Helfrich brings out something that Cheap Trick—a band that set its song's distraught lyrics to a party-anthem tune—never quite did. I'm betting Helfrich will be asked to play the song in at least a few weddings. CASEY JARMAN.
SEE IT: Fake Drugs releases Drake Fugs on Tuesday, April 20, at Holocene, with Guidance Counselor and Astrology. 9 pm. $5. 21+. Mbilly releases Mister Nobody Baby on Friday, April 16, at Mississippi Studios, with the Alialujah Choir and Tara Jane ONeil. 9 pm. $8. 21+.