With warmth reminiscent of bedroom cassette tapes and the later days of summer, Pill Friends’ latest effort Blessed Suffering is adequately named. Lyrical narratives conveyed by heartfelt vocals indicative of the aftermath of being alive, Blessed Suffering casts Ryan Wilson as a proselytizing prophet with poetic diction, reviving adolescent longings in listeners still tempted to lose themselves in reveries and reflections.
“Rituals,” the album’s opener, is somber but captivating. Highlighted by driving chords, humming strings, and an overall lush emotional soundscape, Pill Friends’ depth rests in their ability to create anthems that effectively captures the poetry of life’s contradictions of mortality. As Wilson croons, “Forgive me for nothing/Forgive me I’m nothing.” “Rituals” progresses towards its end, characterized by Wilson’s candid lyricism and gradual static evocative of anxious lethargy. In its final moments with sparse yet articulate instrumentation, the namesake of Blessed Suffering’s first bears its fullest meaning. Kicking off with a muffled laugh, the cinematic start of “Parking Lot Graves” brings to mind similarly somber optimists like Happy Birthday or The Babies. Melodic with heartfelt riffs and a memorably buzzing chorus, Wilson’s diction devolves into shouts towards the track’s end. Affirming listeners that “You can’t be saved,” Wilson’s aesthetic resembles that of a younger Conor Oberst circa ’98 (A Collection of Songs Written and Recorded or Letting Off the Happiness) but less a coy demeanor and with more decisive precision.
“Forget Me” is a morbid love song depictive of lovers or close friends. Filled with latent longing and doom, the song, despite its bleak outlook, exudes a bittersweet sentiment towards fear and suffering, viewing both as legitimately intimate and plausibly meant to be a shared experience. It is difficult not to feel minimally hopeful as Wilson croons, “I’ll wipe the blood from your tears/through your pointless suffering.” With a similarly emotive tone, “Satan Is Your Master Now” is warm with jangly riffs and hissing cymbals. Seemingly upbeat instrumentation paired with gloomy lyrics again proves Pill Friends’ penchant for juxtaposition in regards to their instrumentation and relatively dark yet endearing lyricism. Ending with fuzzy dissonance, “Satan Is Your Master Now” fades out like a dream upon waking, easing into the opening notes of “Wearing My Dead Dog’s Skin.” Wilson’s sincere delivery pairs well with initially mellow guitar and a hypnotic yet steady backbeat. As “Wearing My Dead Dog’s Skin” progresses, the track’s serene attributes evolve into a more pronounced anxiety covertly as Wilson repeats “I trust in hell.”
“Not Here” is an undeniably garage-pop influenced anthem full of feedback and fuzz fostering a caustic energy similar to that of contemporary garage gurus like Ty Segall (pre-Sleeper) and Terry Malts. Ending with a re-visitation of the album’s fourth track, “Not Here” gives way to “Mall Goth,” a relatively more reserved cut with intimate vocals that serve as a symbolic farewell to adolescent martyrdom and a sincerely acknowledged awareness of whatever comes next.
“Prayers” and “Suffering” are lastingly cathartic, the latter of the two (much like many instances throughout Blessed Suffering) strikes a nostalgic chord in listeners through earnest lines like “Love evades every thought/and pills nullify my restless mind/I hate myself but I couldn’t hate you / even if I tried.” Like the perfect revamp of an early 90s B-side by a Saddle Creek wunderkind, Wilson’s “Suffering” feels universal. It feels true. Extending religious imagery from beginning to end, Pill Friends’ triumphant but modest exit is marked by “I’ll Rise To Die Again.” Highlighting the paradox of resurrection and the complications of mortality, Pill Friends’ benediction to Blessed Suffering is affective with few (if any) flaws.
The production quality of their latest LP makes leaps and bounds past the group’s previous releases, taking them further away from something just between college friends after the bars are closed to a band refining their craft before just being discovered by the rest of the world. - Dianca Potts