The Drones: Feelin Kinda Free
(Tropical F*ck Storm Music)
The Drones’s seventh album is a masterclass in genre-defying rock. No prisoners are taken. Louder Than War’s Joe Whyte reviews.
This is not, some of you might be disappointed to hear, the Manchester punk rock Drones of “Bone Idol” infamy. This “other” Drones are from Melbourne, Australia and have been kicking up a storm of frenetic, dense literary rockin’ since their debut album “Here Comes The Lies” was released in 2002.
The album that followed that, 2005’s “Wait Long By the River And Your Enemies Bodies Will Float By” established them as a real force to be reckoned with. Part Americana dust, part Crazy Horse electricity, part Stooges opiated grit and a huge dollop of don’t-actually-give-a-fuck-what-you-might-think. They took the attitude of The Birthday Party and the garage nous of Radio Birdman and welded it onto some quite stunning wordplay and huge, flame-spitting, Neil Young-meets-Dinosaur Jr songs. That album was multi-award winning and was played in it’s entirety by the band at the ATP Festival in 2009 to massive acclaim.
Having seen myriad band members leave, return and then leave again, it’s been an arduous journey for only-constant Gareth Liddiard. The Drones are by no means a one-man band, however; almost every album has been a joint writing venture and “Feelin Kinda Free” continues the trend.
Describing the album in the press release as “a bad trip you can dance to” probably says it better than I ever could; graphically interweaving lyrics and all sorts of guitar dissonance and stomping rhythms are twisted around gurgling keys and flashing synth noise to create an album that is as multi-layered as it is immediate. The album keeps giving up new secrets; one can be focused on the lyrics and become aware of instruments, space and little details previously unnoticed.
I should say it’s something of a departure from “….Enemies” and to a lesser degree 2006’s “Gala Mill” (which is another cracker if you’ve not heard it). The band have evolved throughout the years without losing that gnarly, nasty feel. “I See Seaweed” from 2013 had a more filmic, widescreen feel and was not unlike some of Nick Cave and Mick Harvey’s scores. This is another step forward with its clanking rhythms and clanging instruments. The guitars are less to the fore in most of the songs; The Drones seem to have taken elements of krautrock and even funk into the drums and bass although it’s no less unnerving than some of their earlier blizzards of guitar noise.
Opening song “Private Execution” starts with a familiar cacophony of guitar noise before dropping into a pulsing, sleazy bassline that seems to be the speciality of Aussie groups, Cave’s bands and The Triffids springing to mind. Liddiard’s voice is a sarcastic, untutored snarl and his lyrics are a stew of overlapping ideas. Squalls of dissonance leak in over the strutting fuzz-bass and the guitars verge on running off into feedback as they parachute in and out of the song. It lasts over seven minutes and rarely loses its focus; the last minute or so where the guitars sound like the Sicilian strings on the soundtrack of “The Godfather” are a particularly neat touch.
“Taman Shud” (Google it- it’s a really interesting Cold War/spy/murder whodunnit case from Australia) is a much more stark and jagged song with barely a hint of guitar. I was reminded of The Tom Tom Club on acid to be honest; the gnarled vocals are insidious with Liddiard intoning “I don’t give a fuck” through a litany of modern tropes as bassist Fiona Kitschin adds choruses that sweeten the deal.
“Then They Came For Me” again has a quiet, vocal-led intro which resolves into a tight bass and drums thump. This one is much more controlled although the washes of guitar (which sound like mellotron) towards the coda are a classy, lysergic touch. “To Think That I Once Loved You” is a bitter and twisted song of obsession and love lost. The band keep it down and subdued and Kitschin’s high vocal is a spectral presence.
“Tailwind” is a song with barely any guitar again; the bubbling bass and machine-like drums lead the way although a few odd chops of minor chords add a threatening edge. A lonely sax oozes in at the end, reminding me of some of fellow Aussies The Laughing Clowns later material.
“Boredom” brought a grin of recognition as amongst bouncing, tightly jammed lead vocal, Kitschin sings the chorus a la Devoto; I was waiting on the “ba-dum-ba-dum” kiss-off but it never came. Lyrically its a melange of modern world hates; Liddiard has a way with a stinging, sardonic couplet leaving one in little doubt about his disdain for the cosmos. Becoming almost funky towards the end, some stabs of cello sugar-coat the irony.
Keeping things always forward in motion, The Drones are one of the few bands that we can rely on. Long may it continue.
Words by Joe Whyte. You can read more of Joe’s writing at his Louder Than War’s authors archive.