On The Drones last album, I See Seeweed (2013), there was a sense that the band had reached terminal velocity with their brand of dense, churning rock music and elegiac, snaking balladry. Where could they go from there without repeating the format they’d seemingly mastered? The answer is Feelin Kinda Free – the title alone signalling a breaking of the creative shackles. Between albums they also welcomed back early (2002-04) drummer Christian Strybosch and formed their own label, the delightfully named Tropical Fuck Storm Records.
The combination of those changes and a reassessment of where Gareth Liddiard and co wanted to take the band has led to an album that feels like a re-birth, a sonic sea change. A definite stepping outside the box yet without sacrificing that febrile intensity and dark, caustic beauty that runs through all of their music. It’s just that now the intensity is more present, focused and contained. In the past Liddiard has railed against historical injustice but here the context is entirely contemporary with references to Indonesian executions, the litany of socio-political references in the pummelling post-punk discordancy of ‘Taman Shud’ and general allusions to state oppression.
Musically, the flailing guitar solos that were so prominent on past albums have been replaced by textural drones, feedback, effects and plenty of synth and drum machine accents. ‘Boredom’ is essentially Liddiard rapping over a dystopian breakbeat and dark staggering funk with Fiona Kitschin’s processed vocal intoning the song’s title. Her voice features more often and is used with greater variation and eclecticism than in the past, reminiscent of the quirkiness of CocoRosie.
Amid the twists and turns the band haven’t forgotten their ability to pen a staggering treatise on love with ‘To Think That I Once Loved You’. It’s a post-relationship tale with Liddiard singing ‘Your heart’s lost its thrust, you’re marooned on the moon’, a pitiless assessment of a failed tryst that still bathes in a beautiful drifting musicality. That contradiction is what defines The Drones. The extremes, the bruises and the honesty. They’ve evolved their sound to a point of singular originality that will alienate some of the more ‘rockist’ fans who won’t cope with the unease and experimentalism on Feelin Kinda Free. That’s the point though – the band are feeling free, who’s prepared to come along for the ride with them.