Monday, December 04, 2006

Number Nine! The Drones: Gala Mill.

Hauntological Blues

Quite what made “Gala Mill” such an awesome listen, such a monumental piece of work is hard to convey. After all, a bald (hideous word, that) description of them, raw and ragged, strung-out garage punk would leave you hard placed to differentiate them from a million other post White–Stripes wanabees. But what the Drones had on their side, among other things, was that they were Australian.

It's the Australian Folk tradition, with its tales of nostalgia, loss, abduction and inhuman suffering, the foundations of Australian society, mired in merciless exploitation, rebellion and punishment and the wounded-ness of its peoples that the Drones revisit again and again*. The cover, for example, features a sepia rendering of a posse of masked men. Criminals, lawmen, concerned citizens, it’s impossible to say, but certainly ancestral fathers familiar with violence. One track “Words From The Executioner to Alexander Pearce” imagines a conversation between the hangman and one of the country's most notorious criminals and cannibals as bassist Fiona Kitschin’s voice soars, seraphic, over their heads (the clouds parting to reveal the Kingdom , the ministering Angel come to take the traveller home.) We don’t expect much from rock lyrics these days, but fortunately the Drones are up to their subject matter, horror, guilt and hope, History in effect, both personal and political, sometimes strikingly transfigured, as in the opener, the seven minute barbed wire and landmines assault “Jezebel,” (see above) or more directly addressed in the epic storytelling of the ten minute-long, “Sixteen straws” an elaboration on the traditional “Moreton Bay.”

Blooze wise The Drones are situted somewhere between the throttled, silt-heavy humidity of Oxbow, the Laughing Hyenas sky-scouring, volcanic howl and, given that the pace never gets up much above funeral, the drums largely a repetitive thwack (the sound of a hammer breaking hot stones, of a spade thudding again and again into unyielding earth, of the jawbone of an ass against a skull) they are also reminiscent of the beautifully doleful plod of Dirty Three’s “ Horse Stories.”

Not simply content with this, “Gala Mill “ plays enough subtle, disruptive games with notions of presence and authenticity to suggest they’re regular readers of K-punk! “Jezebel”, starts up, as do almost all the tracks, with a voice from the studio cueing the band in for that one–take, live-to-mike performance, followed by a moments silence in which a dog can be heard barking somewhere in the middle distance before there’s the hum of a coiled amp and the song comes crashing in. The sublime, teasingly ambiguous “Work for me," ends with a thin electronic filament threading its way into the track and a faint peal of birdcall. And what are we to make of the lovely, loping, “Are you leaving for the Country?” with its thick swathes of multi-tracked, dubbed out vocals, the dare we say, Utopian note of its chorus, “Let the spirit move you again!” and the softly quavering electronic smear of tremulous non-voice that ripples through the applause at the end of the track?**

I heartily look forward to seeing them blow “Grinderman” of stage at next year's ATP!
*There’s an evident overlap between the American and Australian experiences and the degree to which the Blues, in its compulsive re-iteration and attempted exorcising of the trauma of slavery, of chains, transport and indentured work in foreign climes chimes in with the Australian experience of deportation and hard labour, the legacy of land clearance and settling, lawlessness, genocide of the indigenous peoples, the unbearably hostile, alien territory and the almost cosmic inaccessibility of the homeland, literally on the other side of the world, (“I’m Stranded”)

** This news just in from The Drones website! “The family who owns the farm and the mill (where the album was recorded) have been there since the 1840s. It’s beautiful. There are all these orchards around it, a creek near there you can swim in... and it’s meant to be haunted. A woman apparently comes upstairs into the bedroom and cries. Although,” she laughs, “We never saw anything. It’d probably be a better story if we had.”
Update! Re the E-mails inundating me (well there's been two, which for the Impostume is a bumper crop) plus PMPEP's distaste for the Drones, the question, do I actually like them or am I fannying around in annoyingly smug way, selecting records at random and making large claims for them (first the apparently appaling Calamaro, now this) I would have to say errr... yes to both. Do I genuinely think that Drone's song is very good, yes I do and do prefer them (shock, NO!) to Oxbow, who are just a bit toooooooooo ponderous over the long haul for me, is the Album fantastic, yep. Am I suggesting that the Drones have anything in common with the Ghost-boxers of this world, not really no, never actualy having heard ANY of the ghost box and whatnot stuff i wouldn't be in a position to say and i reiterate the below "without any grafting of Large Theoretical Concerns onto the affair." Cor, just a bit of cheeky fun with a few phrases that have been bandied about of late, no need to start a witch-hunt!* And i thought people would be annoyed by my imputation that listening to "Bajofondo" meant you were an evil imperialist.
*Wyatting chickens coming home to roost? They warned me, you know.

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