Gareth Liddiard is pissed off. On the first taste of The Drones’ new record Feelin Kinda Free, he subjects Australia’s military history, thinly veiled bigotry and crooked press machine to one of the most punishing verbal onslaughts this side of a Sleaford Mods track. The song’s subject, the implausibly creepy Taman Shud case, is perfect fodder for a songwriter who thrives on darkness, mystery and injustice – previous songs have touched on Laika the space dog, horrifying Japanese genocide and a collection of eerie Google street view photos just to scratch the surface.
It’s fair to say then that The Drones’ music is loaded with a capital L – pumped up with fury at our historical flaws, contemptuous of seemingly institutional wastefulness and pride. Lyrically, Liddiard cuts an entrancing figure – somewhere between a political revolutionary and an apocalyptic conspiracy theorist, uncompromisingly sceptical but never without reason. On 2013’s I See Seaweed he readily obsessed over humanity’s most callous elements – the warmongers, the capitalists, the faceless elite – without flinching once, his words often spat out snidely like a crazed Nick Cave. Throw his dogged lyricism over manic, maddened guitar work and you have yourself a dark horse for one of the best albums of the past five years.
You’d think things couldn’t possibly get any more ominous but you’d be wrong. The first chorus on Seaweed’s follow up sees Liddiard flippantly remark: “now I’m feelin kinda free // I’m going straight to DVD” as if liberated by the acceptance that humanity is too far gone. Later he sneers, “I want a private execution…for free_” over one of the most guttural bass lines I think I’ve ever heard. After the sharp, juddering ‘Taman Shud’, ‘Then They Came For Me’ references the always crushingly relevant Martin Niemoller poem as well as psychological tactics used by the German air force in World War II. The stakes are somehow even higher, the outlook somehow even bleaker.
Maybe I shouldn’t sound so surprised. There’s no doubt the world has become more unstable, more hostile, more publicly murderous since Seaweed’s release – for someone as mindful as Liddiard, a world increasingly on the brink of something very sinister. On the hip-hoppy venom of ‘Boredom’ he inevitably turns his attention to the big political stirs in 2016, name-dropping welfare states and Islamic caliphates, prophesising the imminent death of the 'cradle of civilisation' – the Middle East. On ‘Shutdown SETI’ he even goes cosmic, viewing human savagery from the perspective of an extra terrestrial outsider: “They might be little // might be green // but hardly green with envy”.
Instrumentally too, the picture is wilder – Feelin Kinda Free is no doubt The Drones’ most eclectic record yet, flitting between industrial, Sigur Ros-ian post-rock (‘Private Execution’) and Reflektor-style minimal electronics (‘Tailwind’) without a care. Much like the scrawled text on its cover, Feelin Kinda Free is rash, splintered and disarrayed - the recording is heavily overdubbed, swimming in strange atonal clutter and swells of menacing noise. Yet still, it never feels illogical - there are burgeoning melodies at the heart of all of these songs that keep them from straying into the abstract, a tenderness that keeps you firmly on Liddiard’s page. This is no more evident than on ‘To Think I Once Loved You’, an achingly sad ballad that skilfully treads the line between gentle and unnerving without a misstep.
If it’s true then that “'ome men just want to watch the world burn' (to quote, um, the butler off Batman) I might just be one of them - Feelin Kinda Free could be the best apocalypse soundtrack you’ll ever hear. I See Seeweed was, by our own admission, a lost album. Don’t make the same mistake twice.
8Andrew Harrison's Score