Better Pills
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Better Pills

Albany, New York, United States | Established. Jan 01, 2010 | SELF

Albany, New York, United States | SELF
Established on Jan, 2010
Band Alternative Post-punk


This band has not uploaded any videos
This band has not uploaded any videos



"Better Pills"

Brent Gorton doesn’t clutter his music with much fanfare. His band Better Pills quietly released Blood Chant last month on their Bandcamp page and for free download at “Recorded in a basement during the winter times,” the description reads. “The whole thing is very gloomy,” he wrote to me. Not exactly a hard sell.

His band’s music will similarly spare you the bullshit. “You’re pulling out my heart with knives, and I’m not answering,” he sings on the opening track, over the aortic kick drum of Phil Pascuzzo and a one-note acoustic guitar vamp from Meg Duffy (Gorton’s most exuberant correspondence fittingly described Duffy’s playing as “crackerjack”). The sound is raw and surgical, gloomy perhaps but never lamenting. It’s winter music, bony like exposed tree branches and cold like all that extra sky, but it’s also pragmatic music, more concerned about making itself clear to the listener than making the listener feel a certain way. “Breaking” trades the mono-riff for a couple slabs of Andrew Sullivan’s fuzzed keyboards, between which Gorton’s voice pings and trembles as if locked in a bathroom stall.

Things warm up a bit in the album’s belly, with Gorton chanelling Michael Stipe on the tuneful “Pyramid Scheme” and Duffy’s verb-drenched guitar swaddling an analog synthesizer ditty on “Question of Why.” The album’s longest track, “Freezing Car,” is probably the centerpiece though, both sonically and conceptually. Gorton’s voice stretches the simple lyrics over a shaker egg to echo shimmering tremolo guitar and glacial keyboard swells. Plumes of static punctuate the narrator’s hopeful all-night drive before Duffy and Pascuzzo drop the hammer five minutes in for a cathartic moment of psych-rock abandon.

But, just like that, everything is stripped right back to acoustic guitar and voice for “Dream,” a track that proves the debt Gorton’s “mopecore” owes to Kurt Cobain. - Metroland

"Now You See Them...Better Pills"

Jittery. Claustrophobic. Bleak. These are words that the band Better Pills use when attempting to describe their sound on a Friday afternoon at the Low Beat in Albany.

“I’d say we were postpunk, but that’s kind of a lame tag,” says lead vocalist and primary songwriter Brent Gorton.

“No, that’s pretty good,” agrees drummer, Phil Pascuzzo. “I’ll take that one.”

“New wave? New new wave? Kraut rock plus new wave?” Gorton says, laughing a little maniacally. “Describing your sound is like trying to describe yourself. It’s weird.”

“There’s a little Kraut rock in there sometimes,” says Pascuzzo. “But in the beginning it also seemed a little jazzy.”

“I was trying to be kind of jazzy and a little like Stax/Volt,” Gorton says, referring to the Memphis soul label of the late ’60s and early ’70s. “With a really tight rhythm section. But it didn’t turn out that way in the end because, while I like that kind of music, I’m not a soul singer. And is there really anything worse than white soul? Probably not.” He grins and talks some shit about the Righteous Brothers before attempting to further classify the music he plays with the other three sitting around the only booth in the club.

photo by Yulia Peshkova
Pascuzzo and Andrew Sullivan, who plays the synth, are eating gigantic burgers while Gorton is downing cokes (“I have a coke problem,” he says ruefully), and Meg Duffy, guitar, is drinking a ginger ale and looking a little anxious because she has to leave for work soon. Sullivan and Duffy, who are also roommates, are clearly more reserved than Pascuzzo and Gorton—but it is Gorton who emanates an intense, almost chaotic, energy. Also the eldest, he was the inspirational force behind the band and remains its representative member and primary creative force.

“So yeah,” continues Gorton. “Like jittery . . .”

“Goth,” offers Sullivan.

“It’s got a little goth thrown in there,” nods Gorton.

“Yeah. Definitely.” Pascuzzo concurs.

“It’s also kind of dancy,” continues Gorton. “It’s got some Talking Heads in there probably. It’s like weird manic-depressive, sort of a caffeine high—but then a really horrible low.”

Duffy is smiling. “Bipolar dance music,” she says.

“There are some downers in there,” adds Pascuzzo. “Some real, like, slow, depressing, probably less caffeine, more morphine.”

“So you can be sad and you can be happy,” says Gorton. “All in the course of a half-an-hour set.”

Gorton, Pascuzzo and Sullivan all knew each other from other previous musical endeavors before they came together to form Better Pills in 2009. Duffy joined them two years ago. With the exception of Pascuzzo, the band members are from the Capital Region. Pascuzzo moved here from the suburbs of New York City to go to school in 1996 and returned in 2003. He saw Gorton play some of his first shows at Bogie’s in the mid-’90s. “Back when Howard [Glassman] owned it,” recalls Gorton. “That’s a long time ago, really, when you think about it.”

Back then, Gorton was in a band called the Stars of Rock. “That’s when I first saw you open for Superchunk,” remembers Pascuzzo.

“Yeah, and you said I looked super unhappy,” says Gorton. “Which I probably was.”

“Miserable,” says Pascuzzo. “So unhappy.”

“We had some good songs back then, but we just didn’t know how to execute them.”

Gorton played with the Stars of Rock until 2000, when he struck out on his own and began playing with different people. The only other band he has been in was a group called Tender Breasts that he played in with his current wife and another friend.

After returning to Albany in 2003, Pascuzzo began playing with Aaron Smith in Scientific Maps in 2004. (Smith often plays bass for Better Pills when they have live performances, freeing Gorton up to play tambourine and work on his “stage moves.”) Around the same time, he and Sullivan were in a band called Gun Christmas together. Pascuzzo has also done work with several other bands, including Dead Friend, another band that Sullivan belongs to. It’s through Dead Friend that Sullivan got to know Duffy.

“She came to a Dead Friend show and said she wanted to play music together,” he says. “Dead Friend doesn’t really happen much, but we decided to add a guitar for Better Pills and I asked Meg to come play with us.”

“You’re in like 16 bands, right?” Gorton asks Duffy.

“I’m not really in a lot of bands right now,” she replies. “I play in a band called Hand Habits and used to play in another band called Careers.” (Duffy has also played with Mary Leigh Roohan, Babe City, Jake Moon, Russel the Leaf, Sun Burdens, Rhombus and several others.)

It was Gorton’s idea to reach out to Sullivan and Pascuzzo. “I e-mailed these guys,” he says. “I guess I just hadn’t been in a band in a while and I wanted to play music again.”

They rehearse once a week, but play out only two or three times a year. And they’re just fine with that.

“Brent has kids,” offers Sullivan, by way of explanation. “And all of us work a lot. We’ve played mostly at Valentine’s. And then here.” (The Low Beat is owned by Glassman, as was the popular former venue on New Scotland.) “It kind of just works out that we’ll just play if one of us books a band on tour.”

“Yeah,” says Gorton. “We try and book bands that we like and then we play with them. We’ve played out-of-town shows, but it’s just weird because then you’ve got to drive for just this one show.”

“And you get a flat tire,” teases Duffy.

“And you get a flat tire,” echoes Gorton, laughing. “Or you drive an hour past the exit for no reason.”

“We were chatting! What were we talking about?”

“I don’t know.”

Blame it on their old age, say Gorton and Pascuzzo.

“I’m just not into the struggle,” says Pascuzzo. “I’m too old to, like, tour.”

“I’m the same way,” says Gorton with a groan. “I’m just not into the struggle anymore. I’ve been doing this for 20 years and, it’s pathetic to say that, but I just can’t. I don’t have the fire in my belly to say, ‘Hey, check out this band that I’ve been working on.’ It just doesn’t seem cool to me. Basically, if people come out and like the music, that’s great. If they take it away and talk about it later, that’s awesome. It’s just that we’ve kind of got this microcosm here and I’d rather have a great show in Albany and make it cool and bring bands into Albany that I like and play with them than just drive around like a jackass. That’s hard, I’ve done that and it’s hard.”

Even without that “fire in their bellies” or many performances a year, Better Pills have still made a name for themselves on the local scene. When they played with Lip Talk late last October, many of those who attended the show were there specifically to see Better Pills and spent their entire set bouncing around on the dance floor.

Pascuzzo attributes their popularity to their many local musical connections. Sullivan thinks it’s the bands they choose to play with. These guys are nothing if not modest.

“I think it makes it special when you only play a couple of shows a year,” says Gorton. “I mean, I would like to play out more places, but getting the publicity to get people out is hard. Maybe you just gotta do it, but I don’t know.” He glances at Duffy. “Yeah. You would say you just gotta do it.”

“Yeah. You just gotta do it,” she answers.

This month, they’re playing their second show in just three months. They’ll be performing at the Low Beat on the day after Christmas.

“It’s the holiday hangover festival,” says Gorton. “That’s what I’ve dubbed it. It’s here at the Low Beat. We’re playing with Russel the Leaf and Slowshine. I’m really happy to be playing with both of those bands. They’re both local and both really good.”

They never play the same set twice, and endeavor to add at least one new song each time they play out. “We don’t like to be bored,” they agree.

“We come up with a lot of things organically,” says Gorton. “Just on a bass riff or a drum fill. I write the lyrics and melodies, but I would say a lot of the music is really collaborative.”

“I like the really long songs that don’t do well live,” admits Sullivan..

“Yeah,” says Gorton. “There are some songs that don’t do well live because they’re really long and they take a long time to build up. I just don’t feel like people have the patience to listen to something for more than three minutes. I don’t know. Maybe I’m wrong. We’re not fucking Tangerine Dream.”

“I wish we were,” says Sullivan.

“Me too,” agrees Duffy.

“Their first album,” qualifies Pascuzzo.

Better Pills will perform Friday, Dec. 26, at the Low Beat (335 Central Ave., Albany, 432-6572). A six-song EP and an album called Bloodchant (which includes some of Gorton’s favorite songs), which were recorded in Gorton’s basement, can be found at - Metroland

"Better Pills Concert"

So first up was Better Pills...This guy is named Brent Gorton and he also had a couple other people with him and they were great. Their songs were simple and nice and easy to listen to and I liked his stage presence a lot. Everyone seemed to be having a rad time on stage but the drummer needed to put his iPhone somewhere else if he was going to be wearing such tight pants. The other dude, not the pants one and not Brent, was playing some crazy distorted keyboard thing and it was super awesome. It was just the best. It was like stars crying.
- Slow Loris

"Best Indie Songwriter"

"Brent Gorton has an acuteness for smart, twisted songwriting. Since his 2002 home-recorded masterpiece, San Diego—one of the best albums to come out of the area in recent memory—Brent’s songwriting has rendered an experimental bend on the lo-fi pop he perfected on San Diego. That experimentalism, along with his incorporation of things old and new (e.g., acoustic guitar and theremin, folk and dissonance), creates an ironic twist in his music—playing with the tradition while still traveling along it. Brent’s songs can sound like an Americana-obsessed mental patient, disposing of his near, dark and bizarre secrets, but with a disproportionate beauty." - Metroland

"The Trifecta of Life"

What I think of Brent Gorton's live shows

It is the trifecta of life. It is the alcohol, the hangover, and the cure.
The alcohol is either an angry uncontrolled rage or the contrived spastic seizures
of an awkward hipster geek, I'm never quite sure. Guitars, mic stands and the
artist get thrown around with indifference. You swear something or someone is going
to break but it never does. It's the lure of the rebellious freak show that turns
good live performances into great ones.
The hangover is the beautiful sadness that runs thru the songs. The sketchy
recollection of the embarrassing shit you did the nite before. The pop is fine, but I
can't have pop without despair. After the onstage mania ends, the slow simple chords
need to be strummed. You can feel the headache, nausea and regret. Without hangovers
I'd be drunk all the time. Without drunkenness, the hangover wouldn't be worth it.
The cure is the pop, which really means well written songs; something your kids can
sing along to before they get jaded by acne, shitty jobs and failed relationships.
The pop can cure just about anything. for three minutes or so You can forget about
your fuckups and be happy you're alive. - Steven Gaylord

"Foxy Digitalis"

"Gorton possesses that rare talent for making the quirky and unpredictable sound so damn infectious, as on the syncopated opener, “Hit The Station,” which starts, stops, and changes musical directions half a dozen times, each one more candy-coated delicious than the last. The similarly wonderful, disjointed pop of Anton Barbeau and the Elephant 6 collective (particularly Neutral Milk Hotel, Olivia Tremor Control, Of Montreal, and Apples in Stereo) may be the most apparent signposts, but I was also reminded of some of the early work of Marc Bolan and Tyranosaurus Rex (not T. Rex), particularly with the myriad studio effects and variety of folk, pop, and rock that Gorton offers us throughout the album." - Online blog

"Record Review"

"Brent Gorton creates a pop world of fascinating surprises in which seemingly odd topics revel in deeper meanings. Crisp melodies and sharp hooks almost overshadow the ingenuity of arrangements that push and pull in extreme directions. A masterful example of pop whimsy and found art, filled with enough pop revolutions per minute to keep the most level head spinning for days."
Ed Baumgartner - Winston-Salem Journal

"Welcome back the Lo-fi Troubadour"

If I had to make a guess at Brent’s influences I’d start with Phil Elvrum and Chris Knox - he shares a similarity of approach and the belief that talent and craft can overcome budgetary limitations. This was recorded at home though it isn’t really noticeable; the sound is full and layered like filo pastry. You can call if lo-fi, you can think of Dump or East River Pipe - these are all bedroom auteurs unconstrained in their approach. Like Hartley Goldstein, Gorton is breathing some new life into the genre, and where Goldstein uses humour Gorton uses sensitivity. Songs like ‘Albany is the End of the Line’, ‘Hit the Station’ and ‘Anna Berlin’ are most akin to the Tall Dwarves (it can never be too soon for a Flying Nun or all things NZ revival). He gets more experimental on ‘Feedback’ and ‘From Where I’m Standing,’ the latter having a pure pop sound, stripped back Microphones style to obscured guitar, clattering drums and a wheeze of accordion sound. ‘Adelaide’ is a scorched ballad with harmony vocals and along with the tender ‘The Owl’ it is where he sounds most like himself." - Americana U.K.

"I Guess I'm Floating"

"Here’s a little change of pace, so to speak. Brent Gorton & The Tender Breasts is another promising home-rec band to cross my path recently. It’s a little twangy, a little rough, but so damn catchy nonetheless. Anna Berlin recalls the same characterization The Beatles masterfully trademarked in many of their songs. Using a namesake is a great hook, personalizes the lyrics, makes everything that much more interesting. The instrumentation is simple, much like “Bungalow Bill” is, making it sing-along, clap-along, and sway-along friendly, and pretty damn fireplace worthy to boot. Cuddlecore -This song’s got the same power and promise that AC Newman’s debut demonstrated after one solid play on my stereo. It actually reminds me of a garage band from the seventies getting by playing pool parties and mixers. That guitar just screaaammss through the whole song, and for some reason just reminds me of summer." - Online blog

"Urban Pollution"

"Brent Gorton’s self-titled debut, recorded with second-hand components like an open reel 8-track, spotlights the constant battle between his D.I.Y. mentality and an uncanny ear for shimmering pop sheen. Despite the lo-fi recordings and grassroots approach, each song miraculously translates Gorton’s crisp and solitary brand of indie-pop. And production details aside, Gorton’s vocal delivery and smart, literary hooks are the real meat and potatoes on this, his first and gentle foray into the indie world. Nowhere is this more evident than on “Ferris Wheel,” where Gorton delicately transmits the lonesome-in-a-crowded room mentality as it relates to a weekend carnival. And perhaps most impressively, the feeling is created not so much by what he says, but how he says it, as his voice gently cuddles a slow-burning organ riff. Each component seems to work well together, as the musicianship ranges from dense and layered to sparse and tranquil, and usually rests someplace in between. Standout track “That Photograph,” which comes and goes in just slightly over two minutes, features Gorton’s squeaky lyrical lamenting, a stomp-stomp drum line, buzzing guitars and healthy portions of playful keyboard doodling. Elsewhere, the folky “Anna Berlin” seems like a clear tip-of-the-hat to the Beatles, and album closer, “The Owl,” seems perfectly suited for a night of solitary nocturnal hunting with Gorton’s timid “oooohs” float quietly with outstretched wings above a dark, two-note, guitar landscape. When it’s all said and done, Gorton proves the old adage “it’s not what you do, it’s how you do it” to be a valid one. The man knows how to create hooks and package them in a way that allows them to breathe comfortably within broader confines. Mostly, though, he proves that homemade music and pop music are not mutually exclusive terms." Amanda Rohlich - Online blog



Released January 2014 on Stab! Stab! Records


Released September 2014 on Chrome Dreams Records & Tapes



Better Pills came together in the middle of 2011 when Brent Gorton expressed a desire to his friends Andrew Sullivan and Phil Pascuzzo to start a band combining the minimalist sound of early 80s synth pop with the rhythmic jolt of 60s Stax/Volt recordings. The band quickly set to writing new songs, and the resultant album "Blood Chant" was released on the group's own label, Stab! Stab! Records.

The band relies on Andrew Sullivan's keyboard to set the mood for each piece. Even though most musicians would call his keyboard a piece of junk, Andrew manages to wrestle out a great number of expressive tones from it, bolstering the sound with an army of effects pedals to soften its voice to a modulated echo or raise it to a hysterical scream. The relationship of man and machine is akin to an old coot and his clunker pickup; it isn't pretty but it does the job very nicely.

Phil Pascuzzo, graphic designer by day (he did the cover for Pulitzer winner "The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, among others), combines the straight ahead beat of Jim Keltner (solo Lennon) with the syncopated jazziness of Hugh Grundy (Zombies).  

The final piece of the puzzle is the aforementioned Brent Gorton on vocal & bass guitar. Brent is the band's lyricist and comes up with the basic blueprint for the songs.  He also oversaw the band's foray into recording. Setting up a small jungle of microphone stands, Brent's meticulous ear crafted a wedge of off-kilter rock; both simple and spare while sounding as full as bands using four times as many tracks. The majority of the recording was done live in order to maintain the spontaneity of sound.

The method of creation may be slapdash, but the final product is not. The emphasis is on melody & rhythm. Better Pills create songs to be remembered, something that sticks in the head and demands to be sung in the car, hands drumming frantically on the steering wheel while fleeing the police; songs that will get you through (depending on your lawyer) that long bid in the slammer or your next Jazzercise class.

Influences: The Cars, Squeeze, Joy Division, Roxy Music

Band Members