Drenge, the neo-garage, post-grunge two-piece from Castleton, Derbyshire, have striking album covers. Their self-titled debut carried a black and white photo of a neglected Victorian graveyard nestled beside a scrapyard in Sheffield, the tombstones juxtaposed with car bodies.
The sinister photograph on the front of Undertow, their sequel, shows a car pulled up on the side of a lonely road in the forest – lights on, doors open. It resembles a luminist Bill Henson landscape, albeit with artificial neon streaks. The music, too, is enthralling.
It’s just two years since their nihilistic premiere, but the Loveless brothers Eoin (lead vocals and guitar) and Rory (drums) have transformed, acquiring depth and expanding their oeuvre. Yes, the kids have grown up.
There are no song titles here like People In Love Make Me Feel Yuck. Undertow even launches with a minute of experimental ambient noise, and the title-track is a shuddering instrumental.
Not that the Brits have become indulgent. Drenge now specialise in uncompromising pop. Indeed, Undertow’s most revelatory quality is its melodicism. Drenge have notably recruited a new member, pal Rob Graham (ex-Wet Nuns), on bass. Still, he plays on only three tracks. But, for continuity, they’ve rehired Sheffield producer Ross Orton (Arctic Monkeys’ AM).
Undertow’s lead single, We Can Do What We Want, is a getaway anthem. It’s legit Northern punk – and a bit Ian Dury. Drenge may have moved to Sheffield, but the bleakly romantic Peak District, with its fabled moors and forests, haunts their music lyrically (cue: The Woods).
Eoin has overcome his obsession with the “gruesome” (and dead birds), but not with life on the margins. Undertow is less aggressive, but more controlled and disquieting with latent maleficence. (Wuthering Frights?)
The hypnotic Running Wild recalls both Coil and My Bloody Valentine, but it’s more psychedelic and grungier. Favourite Son isn’t a hundred miles away from Iceage. The Snake is Drenge’s homage to Nirvana, with the guitar riffs, oscillations and heavy bass, plus Eoin approximating Kurt Cobain’s growling.
Side By Side is murky yet epic indie, ferocity no prerequisite to being intense. The Woods might be Drenge’s subversive idea of Fleetwood Mac-style classic rock. More downbeat again is the witch-rock Standing In The Cold, a sound-bleed of Nick Cave, The Smashing Pumpkins and SALEM. That’s eerie.
Undertow is out now via Infectious Music.
Watch: Drenge – We Can Do What We Want