The Drug Budget and I go back to the summer of 2007, when three of them were known for being members of The Angry Mothers, a local act that didn’t always have the best of relations with venues. An incident involving the Varsity Theater and a backing band of twenty people holding toothbrushes comes to mind, but that’s a story for another post.
The first time I saw vocalist Vain Mainstream on stage, he’d wrapped a belt around his head and swore his name was Axl Rose. Lead guitarist Linus Kangas played long after his bedtime. While the rest of the band had packed their equipment into cases, he remained on stage giving his whammy bar an extensive CPR attempt before the eyes of a bewildered, intrigued crowd.
The Mothers disbanded at some point between then and now, but reputation and antics aside, it can’t be denied that they knew how to play rock music.
Lucky for all of us, fate played its cards and three former Mothers ( with the addition of drummer Tom Tier, of likewise local band High Hopes ) reformed into a group that now goes by the name of The Drug Budget, who actually premiered on your humble host’s radio show this past January.
Although they’ve been at it only a little under a year, the summer saw them signing with Dead Sound Music and August 22 marked the release of their debut double-EP, No Contest/The Nerve.
The CD release itself took place at The Hexagon Bar in Minneapolis, and an all-star lineup turned out in support. High Hopes opened strong, warming Tom Tier up for his closing set with the Budget; Power of 2 took the stage with a post-rock chemistry that took everyone by surprised; Twin Cities pride and joys The No-Nos dropped in third, combining a Bikini Kill atmosphere with a glam rock stage presence; and veteran performers Economy Team closed the opening run. Although it was pushing one in the morning at that point, Mainstream and crew took their places and delivered a phenomenal early-morning set, running through most if not all of the track list for the namesake of the evening.
I’ve always enjoyed Vain and Linus as performers. Linus is friendly both on- and off-stage in his performance and his behavior. Frequently during songs he’ll step down into the crowd, dancing with the rest of us as he rails away at a solo. Vain Mainstream commands a stage in his own bizarre way, and I mean that with the best of intentions. For example: He wore a three-piece suit to the release show, stripping away parts of it as stage time ran down, and shook his hips so long that Shakira would’ve gotten tired before he did.
A solid start to a solid album — or albums, as it were.
Looking over a copy of No Contest/The Nerve, you might wonder where to start. Instead of opening from the side, the double-disc paper case is designed to open from the bottom for either album art. This was intentional, I discovered.
Vain Mainstream and Devlin Andersen, owner of Dead Sound Music, wanted to put out a pair of discs with no beginning and no end. Even looking to the spine of the case gives up no answers. Where one title is upright, the other is upside-down, and vice versa when the case is flipped. Andersen was pleased I noticed this, and explained that that was why the event was called a “double EP release,” not a “CD release.” He and Mainstream say that although the discs are packaged together, they should be seen as completely different releases, coming from completely different places.
Aesthetically and stylistically, it’s a provocative choice. In a day when digital media are rapidly fazing out terms like EP and LP and a person can carry thousands of CDs in her or his pocket, I find it refreshing to come across artists that care about every detail of their work, right down to the packaging.
Wherever I started, I was impressed.
The Drug Budget are a humble folk, downplaying their talents and getting nervous before performances despite how many fans they’ve accumulated. So when I sat down to listen to The Nerve/No Contest, I wasn’t prepared for the quality of what came at me. I like to think that my reaction would have been much the same even if I hadn’t known the band beforehand.
Vain Mainstream growls his way through 12 tracks of cynicism, religion, and politics, but nothing is above an average listener’s head. I say this because I know bum squat about politics and I can even understand what’s going on here. Some songs are stories, some are musings, some are just plain humor — the opening line of standout track Nancy Pelosi’s Dead says, “You can’t be pro-life if you’re not a vegetarian” –, but all have been crafted well beyond the quality of most low-budget local bands.
While The Drug Budget is a rock group, the sound isn’t outrageous. I won’t call them hard rock, but their sound definitely has some oomph behind it. The instruments meld with each other instead of fighting each other for attention, the latter being a problem with a lot of narrow-release albums, yet something has stayed to preserve that basement-recording feel and personality. I’m a fan of being able to hear those nuances that tell you how much control the band had over its own work, and there are a number of them in this release.
The Budget plays around with style. Where tracks like The Cost of Living and No Parking are relatively minimalist, Bogus Diagnosis is saturated with contributions from each of the four members. There’s no clear-cut star performer on the album — everyone has his time. In talking with Mainstream, I’m under the impression that that’s important to them, and it’s easy to tell. Mainstream’s vocal style has him singing lower than most vocalists I can think of, but he’s not drowned out by the rest of the band — you can understand him, a trait that’s going more and more the way of the dodo. Kangas’ guitar work is crisp, Tier’s drumming provides a driving force, and bassist Lorin Nelson isn’t at all pushed to the side.
The word I would pin to this release is satisfying. Stylistically, it’s interesting. Lyrically, it’s close to brilliance ( No Parking, American Standard, and ten others ). In terms of audio, it’s not overpowering and it’s not boring for a second.
I admit my bias in writing about The Drug Budget, but I think that in trying to be impartial as I can be, I’m still in love with this band. If you’re in the Minneapolis area, I recommend catching one of their shows at any cost ( cost almost always being fairly minimal, honestly ). They’re personable, talented, humble, and just happy to be here, and I at least am beyond thrilled to have them.