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Drones - Gala Mill

  by Dominic B. Simpson

published: 1 / 10 / 2006

Drones - Gala Mill
Label: All Tomorrow's Parties
Format: CD


Lyrically-stunning whiskey-soaked blues rock on second album from brooding Australians, the Drones

While the histrionics of Jet, and the mediocrity of the Vines, may be giving Australian rock a bad name, it’s interesting to see another band mine a different aspect of the country’s rock history. Via Perth, Melbourne’s the Drones haven’t followed the trend of Wolfmother or the acts mentioned above. Instead, their sound harks back to a tradition in Australian rock of noirish, primitive garage-band blues, one that owes obvious debts to the Birthday Party, the Saints, the Scientists, and even The Dirty 3 (whom they supported at the London Barbican last year) – a sound that takes in the romanticism of the outback and a kind of whiskey-soaked blues specific to dark and biblical Australian mythology. Their sound is reminiscent of 'Ghosts…of the Civil Dead', the late 80’s film set in a maximum security prison in the outback, a place full of murder junkies, retribution, and drunks, or the intensity of Nick Cave & The Bad Seed’s lyrically dense 'Henry’s Dream' album. It has to be said that the Drones’ moniker is a curiosity, given that they ostensibly don’t drone much, and have little in common with Spacemen 3 (beyond the occasional fondness for a garage band jam), Godspeed You! Black Emperor, or any of the myriad acts on the Kranky label. Neither does their music sound like what All Tomorrow’s Parties would normally release on it’s label, for that matter – certainly not when compared with the immensely droney Alexander Tucker. That’s not to say that the Drones are particularly bad, however, and band names are of secondary importance to the music anyway. 'Gala Mill', the follow up to last year’s 'Wait Long by the River and the Bodies of Your Enemies Will Float By', was recorded in isolation – a 10,000-acre farm on Tasmania’s east coast, and with the audible sound segueing one track to another of birds twittering, doors swaying in the breeze, dogs barking, and the rustling of people moving in the production room. 'Gala Mill' starts off magnificently, with 'Jezebel' firing on all cylinders. Singer Gareth Liddard is in his element as he brings forth a tirade of stream-of-consciousness, while riffs fly in every direction: “A cancer’s airborne now…do you hear the sound? /On Jezebel’s luminescence I swear you are my heart’s desire”. It’s a stunning opening to an album, and for six minutes Liddard brings forth all kinds of demons, evocatively spinning tiles of the caesareans, the Nile and Bethlehem. After such a stunner, however, the band relaxes a bit, and never quite recaptures the momentum of such a tumultuous opener. 'Dog Eared' is a blues ballad using slide guitar; 'I’m Here Now' is a sparse, slow burner based around the repeated motif “You’ve gone from perfect to divine” which doesn’t quite justify the near eight minutes that it’s spread over. It’s with the following track, another epic in 'Words From the Executioner To Alexander Pearce' - an account of an escaped convict in Australia who ate six of his fellow breakaways - that the slow, raw tempo begins to grate; the sound begins to feel soporific and the torpor begins to set in, with the only salvation in the end when the song is enlightened by a luminescent falsetto by bassist Fiona Kitchin. Elsewhere on the album, 'Work For Me' (where Kitchin takes main vocal duties) follows the same template: funeral pace drums and the briefest of overdubs. It’s here that you pine for some light and shade to the songs. Thankfully, 'I Never Want To Change' ups the tempo considerably, with some wonderfully excited screaming near the end and a catchy chorus replete with hand-claps, while elsewhere 'Are You Heading For the Country ?' is a warm, relaxed jaunt that provides some welcome relief from the spare, back-to-basics production elsewhere on the album. And it’s with the final track, the near-ten minute '16 Straws', that Liddard’s genius with lyrics is displayed for all to see. A chronicler of life around him, in all it’s gnarly detail, the song begins, “On Sunday morning / While I was out walking/ By the Brisbane’s waters…There I found a prisoner laying half in the water…” Prompted by the experience, for nearly all of the songs’ long acoustic lament, embellished by mouth organ, he parades a dazzling story of his own experiences of a prisoner in “all the places of condemnation”. Whether really autobiographical or made-up for the song only he can say but it’s equal to a short novel with Byzantine twists and turns, sparing no grisly attention to detail: “The chief flogger was mad / I heard a prison guard say / he washed his lash in a bucket / And drunk the remains”. The song goes on to spin the tale of the prisoner, on to face trial, breaking free from the gallows; “Why should be grasp at the straws of our life / When we’re only condemned by our will to survive?” Liddard asks, but then his protagonist succeeds, bailing out while on a boat in the dark. It’s a superbly evocative, spellbinding end to the album and ends abruptly as the Royal Marines arrive in his narration.

Track Listing:-
1 Jezebel
2 Dog Eared
3 I'm Here Now
4 Words From The Executioner To Alexander Pearce
5 I Don't Ever Want To Change
6 Work For Me
7 I Looked Down The Line And I Wondered
8 Are You Leaving For The Country?
9 Sixteen Straws

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