Feelin Kinda Free The Drones Tropical F..k Storm Records
There’s probably only one popular band in Australia that would choose to place an uncracked, handwritten code on the cover of its seventh studio album. Based in Melbourne, this quartet has built a career on following its own instincts and interests rather than chasing a crowd or pandering to the market.
That it is considered among Australia’s most consistent rock acts of the past decade is a testament to its songwriting smarts and unique sound.
Feelin Kinda Free is the sixth essential release by the Drones in 11 years; 2002 debut Here Comes the Lies was good, too, but showed a band still finding its direction and purpose. This collection betrays no such doubts, though it demonstrates a considerable sonic leap from what has come before.
The code on the cover is tied to first single Taman Shud, so named for the unsolved case of an unidentified man found dead on a beach in South Australia in 1948. Songwriter and guitarist Gareth Liddiard is evidently fascinated by this story, and bemused by Australian apathy towards it. “He’s gone and no one even cares at all / The earth won’t answer and the sea don’t mourn,” he spits during the first verse. Set against an insistent beat and spiky guitar lines, Liddiard rails against the mundane interests with which we instead fill our lives: watching MasterChef; renovating kitchens; fostering xenophobia and class warfare.
Tamad Shud is a pointed critique of popular culture, and its nearest thematic neighbour on this album is track six, Boredom, which appears to be written from the perspective of a refugee arriving in Australia and being overwhelmed by our lives of plenty. “It’s like nothing here is even real / You’re just so lucky that you get to feel / Boredom,” sings Liddiard, whose character drifts toward radicalisation: “Man, any kinda ‘ism’ beats a singing competition / On a TV fat with gnash and wail.”
These two tracks are being singled out because they bear the strongest link to the Drones’ past preference for sharp, fast rock songs with a message. But they are outliers among this set of eight songs, which finds the band — joined again by drummer Christian Strybosch, after Mike Noga vacated the stool following 2013’s I See Seaweed — reaching for a richer palette, and largely succeeding.
Its production decisions are consistently interesting, and will prove fascinating for any long-time fan: check out the spectral guitar solo in Then They Came for Me, which is subsumed in the final minute by Fiona Kitschin’s massively overdriven bass tone.
Or the marvellously dark and restrained second single, To Think that I Once Loved You, a six-minute slow burn built on electronic drums and ominous synth chords. It’s at once recognisable as the Drones but different too.
Overall, the collection isn’t quite as strong or has as big an impact as last heard on the stellar I See Seaweed, but listeners who invest in Feelin Kinda Free certainly won’t be feeling boredom.