Review Summary: The band once again revel in their mix of Neil Young, Tom Waits, and Black Flag. Gloriously loud and perhaps even a little more restrained 'Havilah' sits next to 'Gala Mill' as yet another great, dynamic record from the Drones.
A constant comment on the Drones seems to concern how they will never achieve mainstream acceptance - that the group has carved out a niche in rock that is simply too abrasive for the average music listeners. While there is truth to that sentiment, the complete lack of awareness concerning the band is puzzling. The fact that websites like Pitchfork haven’t turned 'Havilah' or any of the band’s previous records into yet another one of their flavor of the week "classics" leaves the band's blend of blues and indie rock feeling authentic. 'Gala Mill,' the group's previous release, revealed itself to be a fantastic album over time. Cuts like 'Jezebel' came off as rubbish with lead vocalist Gareth Liddiard presiding over most of the tracks with his shoddy cockney accent. When confronted with the actual dense, dark tales, Liddiard bellows, though it is tough not to be fascinated with his picture of Aussieland. 'Gala Mill' seemed to echo the images of an artist like Bruce Springsteen in his attempt to embrace and reflect a cultural dialect through music. In turn, 'Havilah' has lightened up the gloom of The Drones, positioning itself as the band’s third great album in a row.
To declare Gareth Liddiard the most imaginative lyricist currently performing may be somewhat of a frivolous statement, but is certainly valid when examining his discography. 'Jezebel,' his masterpiece, was applauded immensely after ‘Gala Mill’s’ release. For those unfamiliar with the opener of 'Gala Mill,' it is a vicious recollection of numerous battles all focused through the prism of a man simply wishing to see his lover again. Recalling everything from World War 1 to fallen Iraqi War victim Daniel Pearl, the track remains singular in its post 9-11 examination of world affairs. 'Havilah' attempts to take a less formidable approach on the world and Liddiard seems to have replaced his anger with longing. 'Oh My' spits lines like "People are a waste of food" over a gloriously bizarre instrumental that marks itself up as one of the poppiest moments in The Drones discography. ‘I Am The Supercargo' reflects the ideas of cargo cults in epic proportions. 'Cold and Sober' acts as the ballad of the album with Liddiard slowly wailing over beautifully distorted guitar. ‘The Minotaur,’ the first single, seems to be the only track in the more aggressive fashion of the band’s older recordings punctuated by the great verse:
‘i have the same old dream
about a tunnel by my bed
from where the stench of **** of minotaurs
yawns like lewd and evil breath
but instinct and a map
has set to work inside my head
lnstead of shedding tears
i've learned to drink and piss instead'
-the drones – ‘the minotaur’
The brilliance of the lyrics on 'Havilah' is so overwhelming that the record perceivably could’ve been just as touching had it been released as a novella. Luckily, instead we are giving an instrumental backing that features some of the best dual guitar interplaying in years. That Liddiard has seemingly defined his generation in lyrical modernism is impressive, but place upon that the fact that he and recently acquired guitarist Dan Luscombe are playing some of the most interesting and melodic guitar lines since the references points of 'Surfer Rosa' and 'Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere' is just admirable. Fiona Kitschin and Michael Noga head an impressive rhythm section that helps propel 'The Minotaur' into serene post-punk. The band also uses a variety of extended percussion techniques on tracks like 'The Drifting Housewife' extending the vocabulary of 'Gala Mill' and 'Wait Long by the River and the Bodies of Your Enemies Will Float By.'
'i try most nights to get you out of my mind
but you're still there silent by my side most the time
i can't help that i let you down
it's too long and too late
and i can't help if i broke your heart
it's too long and too late'
-the drones - 'your acting's like the end of the world'
'Havilah' ends with the haunting 'Your Acting's Like the End of the World.' The most upbeat track on the record, the lyrics tell a completely different story. Ending with the aforementioned verse, we get the feeling Liddiard is somewhat haunted by these hopeless characters he is constantly conjuring. The Drones revolve in a world that is both light and dark. The band’s music reflects the realistic nature of situations in the embellished tradition of the blues. Perceiving events as global and immense as the first lunar landing, the track ‘Penumbra’ recollects Buzz Aldrin in a stark acoustic number. Perhaps that is where the Drones have succeeded flawlessly over their last three records - conjuring up images that are both so seemingly personal yet widely accepted that the listener can do nothing but relate. Whether they have or not, ‘Havilah’ will remain as yet another great record from one of the most talented acts currently playing rock music.