Posted: by The Editor
About halfway through Taking Meds’ fantastic Dial M For Meds, vocalist Skylar Sarkis points out “just ‘cause it’s in the song it don’t mean it’s off my chest / it’s just a couple of words that never could show the depths.” That line contextualizes a line like “all the best art is concerned with bleakness” a few songs later, and these interlaced currents of bleak art and how literally you should read song lyrics are tapped into repeatedly on Dial M For Meds, a record that comes off as a layered examination of life in a rock band. There are funny lines here (at one point, Sarkis rhymes and equates “perfect breasts” with “cheating death”), but Dial M For Meds is far from something like Hitler Bad, Vandals Good; at the same time, even in the darker moments like on the intense “Wading Out,” the record never takes itself too seriously. Instead, Dial M For Meds feels like something altogether original, even as musically Taking Meds aim for the type of midtempo punk and alternative that only really stands out from the pack when it comes from this tight of a band playing songs of this caliber.
While Sarkis’ lyrics are a strong part of what makes Dial M For Meds such an enjoyable listen, you also can’t help but marvel at the abundance of hooks packed into this baby. Opener and lead single “Memory Lane” has three different killer hooks, with the verse melody maybe hitting the hardest, as Sarkis dreams of kicking in the door on both his shrink and job (to read his notes in the first case and to take the drawer in the second). “Outside” pulls the energy back a bit for the verses, but is no less infectious with Sarkis delivering the lines “that metal neck guitar / that cost more than my car / she’s dancing with the stars / playing pop punk in a bar” before breaking into the more energetic chorus describing a gathering of “bleached hair and hash oil pens.” One pass through the chorus of “Life Support” should make it clear why it was picked as the final single, as it certainly has the most earwormy melody on the record. (editor’s note: a few days after this was drafted, Taking Meds released “The Other End” as the final single—a song I didn’t mention in here, but a badass tune nonetheless.) A kind of modern update to “I Wanna Be Sedated” where sedation is no longer enough, here Sarkis considers living on life support “plugged into a gas generator,” while also reflecting on a guy who mistakes his band’s name for “Taking Bets.”
On a record brimming with sick guitar riffs, “Life Support” might have the most show-stopping solo, but it’s not just the guitars from Sarkis and Ben Kotin that stand out on “Life Support,” as we also get some impressive drumming from Noah Linn. It’s pointless to make the observation that “rock bands need good drummers,” but there is a difference between a solid, competent drummer and a drummer that gets a little more adventurous with it (plus, there’s always the danger that the second type gets too busy with fills, awkwardly stumbling into the hooks where they shouldn’t be). Linn—who makes up a new rhythm section for the band alongside James Palko on bass—seems to be the secret ingredient to the potion the Meds are brewing on Dial M, throwing in fills that grab your attention just enough in between lines of the hooks and never hanging around too long before flipping the group to the next phrase (the break in between “I’ll go to the JFK airport / and stuck in an elevator” and “I’m taking a bath in good ideas / soon I’ll be in over my head” in “Life Support” is a good example, but Linn packs the record with little moments that add so much energy and taste to these tracks).
While the singles like “Life Support” are massively catchy and logical picks to promote the record, the truth is any of the songs on Dial M For Meds could’ve been radio singles. Take “Aftertaste” for example, a criminally catchy tune dropped in between “Outside” and “Life Support.” Again, it’s the verse hook that seems to stick out more than the chorus, as the track finds Sarkis reflecting “I used to drive around for cocaine / now I just laugh at my own jokes,” longing to “cancel all this bullshit,” and ultimately drenching his cell phone “in flammable gas.” This is not to say the chorus hook doesn’t hit, though, as it goes down smooth as any on the record, particularly as Sarkis gleefully leans into the line “I’m gonna be the guy that I hate” under some piano hits that fit comfortably along the swagger of the greasy guitar riffs.
And that’s the word that keeps coming to mind when listening to the guitars on Dial M For Meds: greasy. The guitars on “Long Tooth,” in particular, sound drenched in a swampy humidity that seeps through the speakers, feeling like it might actually be able to fog up your windows on a cold fall morning. “Something Higher,” too, exudes a tangible grease alongside a massive hook, sounding like a tune I would’ve heard playing through the clock radio on 105.9 The X while getting ready for high school (but much better). “Wading Out” finishes the three-song centerpiece of the record with an absolutely wicked riff and the album’s darkest lyrics with Sarkis asserting “death ain’t the problem when you’re alone / it’s the years you spend alive” before the band breaks out into an all out jam.
Dial M For Meds closes out with a pair of tracks that seem to find Sarkis at his most brutally honest, but also his most self-consciously detached from the lyrics (which, again, are merely “a couple of words”). A sultry slowburn built off the repetition of “I got no kindness for you” overtop a drawn-out riff and some sinister sounding sleigh bells, “Kindness” feels like it could either be a revelation Sarkis’ true feelings after years on the road playing to crowds with varying degrees of interest, or, a parody of the archetypal dickhead rockstar of the ’70s and ’80s (most likely, it’s a bit of both of these things). The track also gets a fantastic vocal assist from Jess Hall, whose group Oldsoul just put out a killer record a few weeks ago.
“Kindness” is paired with “See The Clowns,” a send-up to classic rock songs that falls somewhere between bitter satire and loving homage. Here, Sarkis flips the cliches from familiar tunes, deflating the sense of hope and instead reveling in the failure and everyday ordinariness of the rockstar life, as he confesses “the times they are not changing” and that he already “gave up searching for that heart of gold.” It’s all summed up in the chorus of “I can’t even start a fire with a spark / all my rowdy friends are selling brown / everyone I know just goes to raves in the end / we’re in mid-air and I see the clowns.”
There’s a line in “Aftertaste” where Sarkis admits “I never call anything special / because I know that nothing is / so if I look for something special / maybe just mind your business”—and this feeling is certainly driven home in the final rejection of classic rock cliches in “See The Clowns”—so I’ll refrain from calling Dial M For Meds a special record. But, there is definitely something satisfying for fans of the band to see the Meds pull off such a fantastic album that not only is devoid of any songs that fall short, but is devoid of anything that falls short. For the uninitiated, it only takes any random 30 seconds of any song on Dial M For Meds to realize that Taking Meds have done something
special worthwhile here.
Disappointing / Average / Good / Great / Phenomenal
Aaron Eisenreich | @slobboyreject
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