Rock

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Music Reviews - An­drew McMillen

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.

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