Mavericks by Work Drugs is the most recent full-length release by the sun-soaked Philadelphia synth-pop outfit. They bring to the proverbial table a largely accessible testament to the genre with some underlying substance and subject matter driving their music.
At first glance, there seems to be a slight disconnect between the band’s aesthetic and their city of origin. Philadelphia is widely considered to be a part of the geographical (and perhaps even more so, cultural) United States East Coast. However, Work Drugs employs a distinctly West Coast image evident in their album artwork and even some of their material, namely in Mavericks’ “West Coast Slide.”
Though the principal East Coast/West Coast feud may belong to 1990s hip-hop, the two coasts tend to produce a different cultural context, not only based in location but a general paradigm. Perhaps such an observation could be taken as a look too far into such a trivial aspect of Work Drugs’ style, but it exists nonetheless. They seem to be fairly genuine in their doing so, indicating that it may have been an intentional creative choice.
The decidedly West Coast aesthetic can also serve as the first step in describing Work Drugs’ sound, creating a point of reference even beyond the vast “synth-pop” tag. Mavericks features lush instrumentation not entirely electronic in origin. The use of reverb-treated guitar and the featured saxophone on “Sunset on High Street” stand out as brilliant additions to an already well-orchestrated record. Another feature that makes Mavericks an enticing listen is its production. The plague of over-production tends to afflict electronic music, but Mavericks subverts it spectacularly. The result is a smoothed-out pop record with a more organic feeling than a vast majority of electronic releases can claim. The record shows a certain lyrical depth as well, with songs of love and loss like “For James” and “Trifecta,” commentary on the aligning co-culture in “A Measure of Life” and “Payola (A Numbers Game),” even ranging to a larger social commentary about the divide between homelessness and youthful privilege in “Sunset on High Street.” The lyrics float above the persistent punch of the instrumentation in a smooth, relaxed and melodic falsetto, entirely deserving of the self-described “smooth-fi” moniker. Mavericks thrusts all of these qualities forward in a neatly-organized exposé of Work Drugs’ material, from up-tempo, club-ready tracks like “Young Lungs,” practically begging for shamelessly wacky Friday night dance moves, to the relaxed melodies of “Trifecta.” The record is balanced to the point of pop perfection.
Work Drugs’ Mavericks could not have come out at a more seasonally appropriate time. It practically screams “summer” at the listener, with great potential to serve as a soundtrack for a night drive with the windows down or a raucous party with close friends and perfect strangers. Mavericks seems to have created the musical equivalent to the summer for the young-adult socialites of the world, in the best way possible.