Pharmacy, the new LP from the Swedish duo Galantis had an incredible build up. Their journey technically began with an oddball collab with A-Trak titled “Jumbo,” but they didn’t solidify their sound or their cause until their debut single with Atlantic’s Big Beat Records, the ultra-contagious “Smile.”
When introducing friends to Galantis, I’ve described them as audio happiness, or more specifically, sound waves injected with highly concentrated bits of Dopamine. I can’t tell you how they do it; Swedish science is very advanced, and shrouded in mystery, but it’s true and it works.
If you aren’t familiar with Galantis’ work, you may be wondering what the hell you’re looking at on the album cover. That’s a Seafox, a mythical creature created by UK-based visual artist Mat Maitland, who creates a new Seafox for each track they release. Not much is known about the Seafox, except that they seem to be native to Australia, and spook easily when confronted.
Consistency seems to be paramount for most producers today, to provide a steady stream of songs, remixes, playlists, podcasts, guest mixes, and radio appearances, along with an equally unrelenting tour schedule. Get enough songs to bundle together for an album, then tour behind, it, then release a remix album, tour again, release another song on the cusp of festival season and tour some more.
I guarantee it won’t take long to realize that you aren’t listening to a sequence of unrelated singles just thrown haphazardly together. There’s more thought and heart put into it, and that is exactly what sets Galantis apart.
Though I haven’t heard anything in the way of a demo from Galantis, I can still say confidently that the end product of their songs differs greatly from what they start with. The songwriting is done with more traditional instruments and arrangements, like a garage band with guitars, bass, stripped vocals, and a simple drum kit. Once they have those elements in place and the basic song structure finalized, they begin building on top of it with the instrumentation and sounds you hear on the final product. When that second layer is built up sufficiently, the first layer of instrumentation is removed altogether. Voila, the caterpillar becomes a butterfly. Or more accurately, how a Seafox comes into being.
At certain points throughout Pharmacy, there is an undeniable teeny-bopper feel to the music, whether it’s the lyrics (“They can’t keep all our hearts in jail now” -Kill ‘em with the Love), the overall tone (“In My Head”), or even the song titles themselves (“Forever Tonight”). If you can’t find a way to either ignore or accept those conditions, this may not be the album for you.
There’s a fair amount of bubblegum pop in Galantis’ music, which isn’t terribly surprising, given their songwriting credits include Icona Pop’s “I Love It” as well as “Toxic” by Britney Spears. In fact, the track “You” was written for Britney, who treated it like it was another Justin Timberlake. Much like Justin (who immediately went on to write “Cry Me a River”) Galantis made the best of the rejection.
In listening to “You,” it’s easy to imagine Britney belting out the lines instead of the sexually-ambiguous, pitch-shifted vocals they use. This bit of trivia has led to a game I play while listening to their music called, “Who was this meant for?” The intermittent belting out of “Forever Tonight” seems a custom fit for Katy Perry, where the shout-singing of “In My Head” may very well be Charli XCX.
I wasn’t impressed in my first few listens to Gold Dust. I don’t know if I wanted or expected a faster tempo, or a different, perhaps less-sparse arrangement, but I just wasn’t feeling it. About a month after it was released, it came on in a mix, and I was absolutely floored.
I’d just put my dog of 14 years, and my best friend, down a couple weeks prior. And while the worst had certainly passed, I still felt empty, and for the first time since I can remember, music just wasn’t doing it for me.
Then, this gorgeous ballad came on, and it was as if color was restored to my world that had gone black and white. The roads weren’t covered in asphalt, they were covered in gold. I cried so hard that I couldn’t even sit up, I just laid in a pile of limbs on my floor and wept. As bad as I was feeling, and as low as I’d gotten, the song managed to enlighten me, to pull me up so I could see how lucky I was to have had that friend in my life, and how fortunate I was to have the support of my golden-haired lady-friend, Cassidy.
Said lady-friend is not a huge fan of some of Galantis’ more recent moves. Namely, their incessant use of an air-horn in their live shows, their lack of innovation or evolution in their live sets from their otherworldly debut at Coachella 2014 to the next at the admittedly lackluster screaming party set at HARD Day of the Dead the following October, to everything about the song “Peanut Butter Jelly.”
We were both fortunate enough to catch their live debut in Coachella’s Gobi tent, and I was absolutely blown away by their expertly crafted and executed set-list along with a high-energy performance. The way they weaved Deorro’s “Five Hours” in with their own songs, and later dropped a world-inverting Brillz trap remix of “You” helped elevate their performance to one of my all time favorite shows. And as lady-friend has pointed out, the quality of their shows took a hit, only to be replaced by yelling at the crowd to put their hands up.
Given the context of their strong start in 2014, as well as the rest of Pharmacy, I can understand where she’s coming from. PB&J is an oddball song, and it seems like it would be more at home as a B-side or on a Chromeo album. It’s a mindless party anthem in the middle of an emotionally powerful and conscientious journey.
“And so the Buddha neither descends, nor ascends. He does not move, yet he is everywhere in all directions, and so the Buddha becomes nothing, and the nothing becomes-BEEEEER BOOOOONG!!!”
PB&J aside, Galantis is all heart and love. In fact, “Dancing to the Sound of a Broken Heart” is their second song about that vital and metaphorical organ. Perhaps “Dancing” next a sign that they’re in the more established and comfortable stage of their relationship, after the mushy-gushy love of “Heart That I’m Hearing.”
Pharmacy is a gorgeous album, full of literal and figurative heart, radiating positivity and showering hope like water, which makes “Water” the perfect chin-up kind of send off. It’s sad, but the type of sad you don’t mind feeling. They reinforce the teenage love-angst one last time with a soft, tear-salty kiss and a lingering embrace.
A few common themes underlie Pharmacy, as well as Galantis as a whole, revealing a sort of love agenda. Consider the following as a kind of “Tenants of Seafox Nation.”
- Love hard. Love harder. Love until it hurts. Love because it hurts. Love more. Whatever you do, don’t stop loving.
- You are the most important person to me. You are somebody’s ‘You,’ too. Do anything for your You, and do everything for your You.
- If all else fails, have a dance party until your feet ache and you can no longer manage to stand. If all else succeeds, have the same dance party.
- Don’t let life get you down. DO let life get you up. Help others who are down. Once they are up, get down and have a dance party.
- Peanut Butter Jelly.
I work, live and play in Minneapolis.
I try to tell the story of the people that create music and experiences through pictures as well as through words.