Tuesday, 9 June 2009

Album Feature: The Drones - Gala Mill (2006)

OK, I lied. I promised a show on Sunday but there wasn't one. One of Rare FM's top quality DJs had lost the keys to the studio, temporarily suspending all shows. I might make up for it sometime this week by doing an impromptu show, a "guerilla show" if you will. How very 2004.

Anyway instead here's another album feature, this time on a band I finally saw for the first time last night at an instore at Rough Trade East: The Drones.
Gala Mill is the first of their albums I ever heard, and it's still my favourite. For me it's the best-realised cross between the more traditional rock of the first two albums and last year's more restrained Havilah.

The Drones are often called "blues-based", but you can ditch any notions of boring retreads; this is a deeply dark and twisted Australian rock, which takes as much from the noisy guitar work of Neil Young c. On the Beach as it does from Charley Patton. There's a Blind Willie Johnson half-cover on their first album and another on the outtakes compilation which are truer to their fire-and-brimstone originals than any note-for-note recreation could be.

Anyway, Gala Mill. As with the rest of the Drones' albums, the first thing that is obvious is the sheer unremitting bleakness of the lyrics. Theft, cannibalism, murder (those last two in historical narrative-type songs) and, in opener Jezebel, a terrifying vision of a modern world exploded into conflict. In fact it takes some resilience to even get past that first track. Two slashing chords repeated over and over again, occasionally relieved by a more melodic chorus, punctuated by Gareth Liddiard yelping fragments of letters home:

"How many people gonna lie?
How many people gonna die?
What's best for the West and the greed?
Kill 'em all? Let 'em breed?
Another bomb for every atom you injure
Meet the Devil with extended ring finger
Saying "thou shalt not kill"
But I'm damned if I don't
So I'm thinking I will"

falling into a final full minute of screeching open chords. It's quite an introduction to the record, musically and lyrically.
There is what could almost pass for tenderness though. "Dog Eared" is a slower and more relaxed song, most notable perhaps for the guitar interplay between Liddiard and second guitarist Pereira. Most of the record is in this more sombre mood, with the vocals to the fore.
The final track, "Sixteen Straws", is an anomaly; a nine-minute murder ballad which is almost acoustic, telling the story of a party of convicts and their escape in the Australian bush. It's fantastically vivd, and in style points ahead to the more acoustic Havilah than the earlier records. In short: an unsettling and bleak record but a very powerful one. The band is fantastic throughout.

For fans of: Neil Young, Gun Club, Dream Syndicate etc.

Stream it here (seems you have to sign up to use this now, which I haven't done. Maybe it'll work. Unfortunately this album isn't on Spotify):

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