The second LP from Michael Collins under the Drugdealer moniker refines, redecorates, and relaxes in the studio-rat 70’s foxhole he’d dug for himself on his debut. After his psych soft launches in Run DMT and Salvia Plath, Drugdealer has become Collins’ haven for outsized ‘70s pop and he’s attracted similar-minded slick travelers and psychedelic savants to come and lay their lacquered licks, honeyed vocals, and perfectly coifed contributions onto his pop vision. So, naturally, frequent collaborator and fellow master of ‘70s AOR brilliance Natalie Mering (Weyes Blood) drops in for a vocal contribution on “Honey.” Harley Hill-Richmond (Harley and the Hummingbird) adds a Laurel Canyon sunset to “Lonely” and country crooner Dougie Poole shifts “Wild Motion” into a down gear that freezes the album’s honey into an amber-hued heirloom that almost pops it into a permanent soft-focus time delay.
Collins’ dedication to a more opulent time in pop music is admirable if also indulgently nostalgic. Songs like “Lost In My Dream,” with their horn stabs and hammock sway could easily hang with contemporary(ish) travelers like Sloan or Jenny Lewis. Those artists have found their footing in lush productions that tend to feel timeless, but despite protestations Drugdealer almost always conjures up the past. There’s a feeling that you’ve heard Collins’ songs somewhere before, but the exact names seem lost in a wood-paneled labyrinth of memories that keep the references from pushing just past the tip of your tongue. Still, if Collins and his crew weren’t so good at what they do, they wouldn’t be able to pull it off at all.
Aside from his kindred spirit Mering, Collins has been in the orbit of Ariel Pink (who doesn’t show up his time around) and Mac Demarco, who finds his way behind the boards to give the album its late-night luster. The spirit of all of those artists has long been to whittle their own images out of vintage wood and with Raw Honey Drugdealer is proving to be a contender among any of them. But for an album that’s dressed up as the kind of studio campout that Brian Wilson once shepherded, the record could use just a little tightening at the seams. It often feels like a soundtrack with some truly golden cuts sprinkled in, but it also chafes in the same way. Collins is becoming more confident as the focus of his albums, but he still hands over the reigns a bit too often to guest vocalists. It would be great to keep the momentum built through the run of songs 2-6, or even go all-in on a full collaboration between Drugdealer and Weyes Blood. The future will tell what’s next, but for now Raw Honey offers up some future lost classics drifting on a sea of AM static.
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