As The Drones enters its 19th year, having been through an east-coast sea-change from its native Perth and a half-dozen line-up changes, several conundrums arise in their immediate line of sight: When you’re a band almost categorically defined by your differences from the conventions of indie-rock, how do you break from holding patterns within your immediate spectrum?
After years of the guitar and the synthesizer going simultaneously in and out of fashion within rock music for years, isn’t it about time the two got along? Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, comes paraphrased from the late American author David Rakoff, as so succinctly asked in his book Half Empty: Are we fucked?
Feelin Kinda Free is, ostensibly, the sound of Gareth Liddiard – the band’s sole original member and primary lyricist – effectively killing The Drones so that The Drones may live. It’s an album that is strikingly-dark and intentionally-provocative to both listeners expecting a retread of Shark Fin Blues as well as those that have never found an in as far as the band’s canon is concerned. Never before have The Drones come across as more imposing and forceful on the attack – and let’s not forget this is a band that once literally named a song She Had An Abortion That She Made Me Pay For.
Sonically and structurally, the album takes note of an old jazz cliché – it’s not what you’re playing, but what you’re not playing. The absence of guitar throughout the verses of opener Private Execution highlight the constant shifts and slides of bassist Fiona Kitschin and drummer Christian Strybosch, who marks his official return to the band after playing on its first two albums. When guitars arrive, they’re so fuzzed-out that they’re near-unrecognisable.
The dual keyboard layering of Luscombe and Steve Hesketh on standout To Think That I Once Loved You, in lieu of both bass and a through-line of guitar, is accented by a distant drum machine and unmistakable harmonies of…well, Harmony; the choral-driven Melbourne band whose vocal half lend their angelic voices to the song’s icy misery.
There’s also Sometimes to take into consideration, which manages to subvert nearly every touchstone that the band has managed to accumulate in their time. Kitschin provides her first lead vocal in a decade, following on from Gala Mill‘s Work for Me, leaving her voice only guided by the warble and whirr of synth beds. Strybosch uses the song to implement a hybrid of electric and acoustic drums to phenomenal effect; lifting the song’s dynamics by a considerable margin.
Across its eight tracks, Feelin Kinda Free takes no prisoners and leaps genre semantics in a single bound. This is easily the fiercest and freshest that the band has sounded in quite some time, and it’s an adrenalin rush that is bound to excite those that celebrate everything that The Drones has to offer.
This is the sound of a band heading straight to Hell and taking everyone and everything along for the ride with them. Essential.
‘Feelin Kinda Free’ is out March 18th, grab a copy here.
Watch: The Drones – To Think That I Once Loved You