Drew Price has had an awfully long career for a 24-year-old. After playing shows at dearly departed all-ages venue Cave9, Price found success with his home recordings online, catching positive attention from outlets like VICE. On the new LP Hustle Strange, released by Montevallo’s Happenin Records last month,Price has consolidated the most effective elements of his early career in an affecting, infectious record.
Price garners immediate comparisons to Canadian indie rocker Mac DeMarco, another young musician with a knack for making pop songs that alternate between easygoing chill and melancholic languor. That fails to mention, however, that Price has been making music like this for six years or more; Hustle Strange is less a stab at indie relevance than it is a return to first principles after Price’s synth-drenched last LP, 2013’s Friends and Family.
In this case, “first principles” means guitar-centric pop music, although it’s a deeply retrospective approach to the form, exploring the salient notes of the late ‘60s and early ‘70s. On the first half of the record, the guitar isn’t so much played as drizzled on top like chocolate syrup, one relaxed texture in an ocean of calm.
Those soothing sounds – Happenin Records cofounder Dustin Timbrook described one of the record’s singles, “If All,” as “aloe to your eardrums” – dominate the beginning and end of a record that’s about, more than anything, growing up. Despite its West Coast trappings, Hustle Strange comes off as not just a Southern record, but a Birmingham record; a record about friends, home and finding a purpose – and “a fleeting taste of family.”
Critically, Price’s wistfulness isn’t afraid to go to dark places, carried aloft by some unexpectedly moving lyricism. On the opening track, “Angry Drunk,” Price starts in a down-and-out reverie, focusing on a narrator at the end of his tether and without enough appreciation for the people who could help him out of his rut; “Keep your friends around just in case,” Price sings bitterly.
One of the central articles of faith in the album, however, is a sincere belief in the salvation found in friendship. “Sported Tame,” the very next song, claws out of the gloom with what may well be the album’s mission statement: “Take a chance on love; it’s worth a try. Take another heart, and make it stranger.”
That ongoing sense of strangeness – an uncomfortable liminal space between complete anomie and complete comfort with the real world – is the dominant theme of the record, as Price struggles to grow up in a city that is itself struggling to grow up around him. The theme of strangeness crystallizes on hooky lead single “Of a Feeling,” which focuses on the opportunities Birmingham gives him to find his roots while pointing out the challenges of authentic commitment. “Would you be the deceiver?” Price sings. “Would you actually care?”
The emerging obsession with the idea of strangeness signals a shift in the album’s musical style – which pushes “chill” music about as far as it can possibly go – into a fuzzed-out direction that is the high-water mark of Price’s ongoing dalliance with psychedelia. Things get weird, and that’s exactly where Drew Price’s Bermuda Triangle shines.
Beginning with the giddy absurdity of “Time Will Tell,” Hustle Strange embarks on a psychedelic suite that may well be the highlight of the record, a passionate outburst that complements the record’s earlier serenity perfectly while providing some much-needed energy. At its best, Hustle Strange combines the shoegaze noise of the early Elephant 6 bands with the street cool of Lou Reed, creating an irresistible, unique synthesis (“Punky Flood and Wire”). It’s a sonic journey through the nooks and crannies of the Boomer salad days, traveling back in time from CBGB to Woodstock.
Eventually, Price settles on sharing his journey through strangeness with his friends on the album closer “Help Me Out,” a gorgeous denouement. It’s a little slice of pop magic, and it’s only fitting that on a backwards-looking record about discovering what matters in the world, Price gets by with a little help from his friends.
Drew Price’s Bermuda Triangle will open for Moonbather at the Bottletree on Thursday, June 19. Tickets are $10. Hustle Strange is available for streaming at SoundCloud and for purchase at happeninrecords.com.