How I loved Gala Mill when I first heard it. So harrowing, so entrenched in its push-pull of raw and refined, bellowing about criminals and cannibals and sometimes both. I liked that record so much I didn't want to hear anything else by them in fear of the moment being shattered, but not long ago Havilah appeared smoldering in my inbox needing, begging a listen. The press release said this was a lighter moment for The Drones than Gala Mill was, but that is merely a trope to dupe the uninitiated into entering The Drones' rough-hewn universe.
Havilah opens epic with "Nail it Down," a little rock 'n' roll shouty but soon enough the guitars strung with barbed wire left over from the efforts to fence off that plague of rabbits in the in their native Australia at the dawn of the twentieth century emerge and all is right in the damaged world of The Drones. "The Minotaur" is part maddening circus romp, part flayed-open psyco-confession : I had the same old dream about a turtle by my bed/ From where the stench of shit of minotaurs yawn like lewd and evil breath. This is but a detail beaten down with the loose floorboards as the band tears the house apart on Havilah. Not to belabor the most obvious Australia connections I can make, but here are the intoxication, noxious perfume from flowers blooming where the Bad Seeds were planted long ago.
"The Drifting Housewife"endorses loneliness over the hazards of love
I'm out here on
Where the foghorns groan through space
Echo into red ant country
Through the doldrums and the wastes
while the devastating "I Am the Supercargo" weaves an elliptical net of slavery, cargo cults, typhoid, and once again, cannibals in which the innocent and the guilty all are trapped. The Drones crawl the webs of complex humanity like an observant spider.
Even the softer songs "Careful as You Go" and "Cold and Sober" bear this weight. In Havilah we are exposed as damned by our actions and those of our unwitting forebearers and all there is left to do is howl. This would be too much to take, as Gala Mill almost was, were it not for the sweet folky ballad of resignation "Your Acting like It's the End of the World" that finishes this album off. It is because of this arc in the suffering that the greatest band from Perth, Australia, a place so remote its contrast with the surrounding wasteland can be spotted from the moon, has bested their previous best effort. They have shown that the deepest hole still has a opening where the light shines in, and with that, a way out.
Alex V. Cook listens to everything and writes about most of it. His latest book, the snappily titled Louisiana Saturday Night: Looking for a Good Time in South Louisiana's Juke Joints, Honky-Tonks, and Dance Halls is an odyssey from the backwoods bars and small-town dives to the swampside dance halls and converted clapboard barns of a Louisiana Saturday Night. Don't leave Heathrow without it. His first book Darkness Racket and Twang is available from SideCartel. The full effect can be had at alex v cook.com