The Beauty Pill

The Unsustainable Lifestyle

(Dischord; 2004)

By Amir Nezar | 6 April 2004

If a name like "The Beauty Pill" doesn't immediately hint at enormous vapidity, then nothing does. And if an album title like "Unsustainable Lifestyle" doesn't connote $400 shirts, endless cocktail parties, and disaffected coke-snorting pulchritudinous Adonises and Venuses, then you might not understand the meaning of the verb "to connote."

Though before I use their coolness against them, I should mention that The Beauty Pill have a small gift at their disposal -- their lyrics, whose cleverness is occasionally disarmingly sharp ("Goodnight for Real:" "There's a band on stage tonight / Every note they play turns its back to you"), but mostly sub-par Dismemberment Plan cynicism. They might even have some measure of instrumental skill, but it's so restrained, so horribly bland, and so lazy, their vocals so infuriatingly cool and sexy in contrast to their phenomenally boring music, that in the end, what matters is that Unsustainable Lifestyle is a waste of time to avoid.

There's always something particularly offensive about a band foisting their attitude on you, acting like you couldn't pretend in your wildest dreams, to be as cool as them, while playing music so brainless and mockingly simplistic that it makes pop-punk bands blush. If this album were a soundtrack to anything, it'd be coked-up hipsters hanging out together in a swinging lounge…and falling asleep.

Aping Travis Morrison's vocal style right down to his post-phrase "yeah"s, Chad Clark's too-cool-for-songwriting band dishes out disaffected lyrics and ineffective music, almost from one end of the album to the other. There are precisely two decent moments to be had amidst all the snide wank: "Such Large Portions!" the only thing approximating a rock song here, replete with some unexpectedly clever drumming and solid guitars, and the (gasp) distorted-guitar ridden "Western Prayer." But you might miss them after you tune out following "Goodnight for Real," which manages to go absolutely nowhere over the course of four minutes, the listless "Lifeguard in Wintertime," with its endlessly repeated refrain about feeling the same way about summer (as who? as what?), and "Mule on the Plane," whose lack of direction is the last reaffirming sigh of resignation before you give up hope entirely. Clark and co-vocalist Rachel Burke's voices don't help matters; they're often off-key, and never work together beyond playing off one another with such indifference that it's a wonder if they recorded in the same studio.

The band finds a backbone for the middle three songs of the album, including "Such Large Portions!" and "Western Prayer," but loses that spine quickly at "Nancy Medley, Girl Genius, Age 15." From there on out you reach that same low plateau of empty cool that guts the album of any passion or urgency.

I remember a time when Dischord had great, determined, and virulent artists, but nowadays (especially with flagship band Fugazi in apparent hibernation) the pickings seem rather slim, and indicators like The Beauty Pill do not bode well for what used to be the best label in which DC took part, for some time. If sleepy disaffection is all it's got left, then consider my heart broken. In fact, The Beauty Pill don't even sound like they're sleepy or dormant; they're already in a nice, chic, velvety grave. Let's hope Dischord doesn't follow the same path.