Over the course of five albums in eight years, the Drones have honed their dauntless apocalyptic sound. Current subterranean champs of Australia’s wide-ranging Melbourne scene, they mangle psych-punk lamentations with epic Goth meditations, creating enough funereal gloom for the doomed, swooned, and lampooned creatures being lyrically subverted. Though supporting musicians have come and gone at a brisk rate since ’02, original brainchild, Gareth Liddiard, continues to improve and diversify his bold artistic endeavor.
Following a self-titled ’02 EP, formative long-play debut, Here Come The Lies, found the Drones honing their bewitching craft. After ‘05’s forebodingly titled Wait Long By The River And The Bodies Of Your Enemies Will Float By, misbegotten third album, The Miller’s Daughter, offered menacingly provocative fare such as audacious fetus-scraping lampoon, “She Had An Abortion That She Made Me Pay For.” But it was ‘06’s refined Gala Mill, recorded in a haunted Tasmanian factory, that really put ‘em on the international underground map. Terrifyingly grim mantra, “Jezebel,” with its squealing-to-wankering six-string feedback and overcast orchestral stridency, recalled intriguing dark-toned rockers such as the Swans, Birthday Party, and Psychic TV. Better still, the apocalyptic video version of “Jezebel” benefited greatly from its willfully confrontational penchant, rustling up mostly old black and white film marked by torture, punishment, and wartime oppression. Combining Sex Pistols snarl with battering hardcore vindication, “I Don’t Ever Want To Change” may be the most accessible cut the Drones devised to this point.
Equipped with his best lyrical abstractions and recorded at his remote “home in the woods,” Liddiard gets personal on ‘09’s momentous Havilah, gathering a series of intensely remorseful songs that’ll scare pop-charmed lightweights. Many maintain the stark vulnerability Nick Cave’s meandering post-Birthday Party requiems once delivered, but at times, they’re as tranquil as Bon Iver’s riveting contemporary portraits (like the creaky-voiced divorce-bound folk retreat, “Drifting Housewife”). Astronaut Neil Armstrong gets referenced in numbing acoustic repose, “Penumber,” a sympathetic Red House Painters-like memento Iver’s lackeys would simply eat up. Similarly, whiny Mick Jagger-modeled ballad, “Cold And Sober,” reaches a reclusive piano-plinked climax meant to shoot out the lights.
Tangibly, each dirgey low-key turnabout seems to trigger the heavier discordant arsenal the Drones exceedingly showcase. Begging forgiveness and searching for emotional rescue in a cold-hearted universe, opening salvo, “Nail It Down,” breaks free of its familiar “I Want Candy”-styled foundation with several electrifyingly seared solos before going completely berserk. “I Am The Supercargo,” concerning the acquisition of cultist John Frum’s god-like powers, features a lonesome guitar figure straight out of Neil Young’s dissonant ‘70s backlog. Another backdated keepsake, nightmarish guitar-entangled scree, “The Minotaur,” recalls Captain Beefheart’s mangled cryptic flanges. Though Liddiard’s apparently destitute by the downtrodden “Careful As You Go,” claiming “the end is drawing near,” hopeful mid-tempo closer, “You’re Acting Like The End Of The World,” prompts poignant acoustical country-folk uplift.
Giving each distended tune a richer resonation at Manhattan club Pianos in April, lanky goateed front man, Liddiard, provided a deeper baritone sneer than the recordings indicated. Expectedly, his feedback-drenched guitar arpeggios tore into each number with oozing resilience. Stage right, newest affiliate Dan Luscombe looked like a young mod greaser, laying down ancillary roughshod riffs in a determined manner. To the left, bassist Fiona Kitschin rubbed out rhythmic chords from her low-slung four-string, facing vigorous drummer Michael Noga for nearly the entire set. Blending fertile catalogue material with several Havilah highlights such as “Nail It Down,” the dusky 50-minute performance captivated avid fans and caught the uninitiated off-guard. Steadfastly, Liddiard’s cacophonously amplified “beautiful” noise rose above the steadfast rhythms, lunging in and out of wiry fibrillation’s while wrangling a mess of dirty blues to fiery heights. For wandering eight-minute heartache, “Luck In Odd Numbers,” Liddiard told the scrunched audience, “you can dance to it.” Well, yeah, if you can go from a waltzing crawl to death march stroll during the protracted seance.
Are the lyrics on Havilah more personal and less political—or am I nuts?
Gareth Liddiard: A little bit of both, I guess. (laughter) Some is historical Australian stuff. I think my political lyrics are more about the state of affairs. They’re pretty obtuse, weird.
Yeah. Desolate—but in an abstract way. It leaves people more open to interpretation, especially now.
Would you agree with online assessments claiming Neil Young’s protracted guitar jams and Tom Waits’ bleak antediluvian theatrics serve as effectual influences?
I don’t disagree. I did a bit of growing up in London in the era when Pink Floyd’s The Wall and Blondie were big. Back in the days, pop music was quite aggressive. That was the stuff I first thought, ‘Wow! What is that?’ Later on, I got into Led Zeppelin, Black Flag, and Suicide. And all the Australian stuff like the Nuns, Birthday Party.