Meet Michael Collins: formerly known as Run DMT then Salvia Plath, currently one half of Silk Rhodes, and now his latest project, Drugdealer. As a producer and songwriter, he might be one of the most underrated prolific musicians of our time. And though his aliases often reference drugs - some more direct than others - I get the idea from listening to Collins' music that he's more interested in promoting music as a stimulant than promoting the use of actual drugs. Lyrics from "The Real World", on The End Of Comedy - Drugdealer's outstanding debut, also seem to hint at this idea. "Every day I wake up and fill my dreaming cup anew. I couldn't find what the others were singing. Everywhere I look there's more reasons to be feeling free, but still I had to keep myself from leaving. But please don't ever turn your face from the real world. It's such a psychedelic place - the real world."
It's possible to tell from a first listen that Collins doesn't create drugged out music. He actually creates incredibly well-written pop songs that pull from classic rock and psychedelic eras, and even funk and soul for Silk Rhodes - a project that sees Collins collaborating as a producer with Sasha Desree.
But The End of Comedy has to be his most concise and cohesive effort so far, as Collins somehow manages to combine classic rock, baroque elements, soul, and psych pop into a smooth blend of timeless songs. It's almost as if Drugdealer's debut is the soundtrack to a mystery film from the 70s that never actually happened.
Michael Collins may be the main man behind this project, but the song-features are its highlights. I've never found Sheer Agony or Weyes Blood to be as appealing as they are on this record. I've always been a fan of Ariel Pink so it's no surprise that his appearance on "Easy To Forget" makes it a standout track. But the way Natalie Mering of Weyes Blood sounds on her two features are reason enough for her and Collins to record a future project together. Her slightly hoarse but deeply soulful vocals slide right over a piano and bass combo on the title track, taking you straight to a dive nightclub where it appears to have been recorded. In this scenario, it's as if Mering is a phenomenal talent riddled with heartache - masking her pain with lines like, "I'm in love with laughter...it always comes down to you". On top of her whimsical despair she's waiting to be discovered as a future star, but she just hasn't caught her big break. And that's the theme of The End of Comedy to me - trying to catch a break but not quite seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. For all of its beautiful production, the record is actually made up of mostly unsettling songs.
Despite its more serious tone, I wouldn't call this a sad record in the very least. Its harmonies and melodies are too light and breezy to not be mistaken as uplifting. Maybe that's part of life's secret that Collins has discovered through all of his experiences - some of our saddest moments are cause to find a greater joy within ourselves that only we are capable of pulling out. That seems to be the aesthetic of soul music anyhow - emotional music that thrives on using the human spirit to power through life's mysteries and challenges. When you look at it like that, The End of Comedy might be one of the most soulful records you'll hear this year.