Review Summary: I See Seaweed seethes with fierce intensity.
It's mind-boggling that Melbourne-based The Drones have yet to become renowned worldwide. While their releases have always drown hyperbolic praise in their homeland, the hype has never seemed to reach beyond the borders of Australia, as if the outfit's allure has been strictly specific to their own deserted land. In fact, it cannot be denied that the band's peculiar brand of raw garage punk and soulful blues ideally encapsulates the darkened heart of the Antipodes, reveling in the same sense of dread that makes most Nick Cave projects so darkly enchanting. Add singer Gareth Liddiard's shoddy phrasing and topical lyrics to that, and you're left with a reflective account of Australian landscape, one that's both undeniably culture specific and universal in scope.
Retaining the same keen sense of place, I See Seaweed
marks a confident step up in quality from 2008's multifaceted Havilah
. The numbers are more expansive taking plenty of time to build up to their overpowering finales. The juxtaposition of the mellowed-out and bombastic sections sound effortless, seeing The Drones excelling in their potent use of dynamics through the entire record. It's intriguing to experience how most of these songs unravel, embracing a vast sonic palette with enough expertise to keep the music grounded. Newly appointed keyboardist Steve Hesketh adroitly enhances the band's mostly rock-centered arrangements with a dash of jazz, which makes for a slightly more off-kilter sound this time around. Hesketh's lead piano melody in the subdued “How To See Through Fog” stands out as particularly arresting.
The strengths of the quintet are instantly apparent the moment the devastating title track kicks off. A melancholic verse crescendoes into an explosive refrain later totally downcast in the bridge. “We’re locksteppin’ in our billions,” Liddiard croons, “Locksteppin’ in our swarms / Locksteppin’ in the certainty that more need to be born,” unfolding his unapologetic take on overpopulation to frighteningly intense effect. Increasingly committed to avoiding cliches, Liddiard demonstrates his prowess as a commendable storyteller with his uniquely fatalistic visions. “A Moat You Can Stand In” pokes fun at modern religious rituals to the accompaniment of raucous noise rock referencing the outfit's early days. Following on the story of the dog that was shot into space in the 1950s, “Laika” strikes as the most haunting tune on the album. Its curious use of piano, sudden orchestral boost and harmonizing female choir result in full-on cinematic grandeur that's fairly distant from the group's usual aesthetics, if never less commanding.
There's nothing secondary about I See Seaweed
which showcases The Drones at their creative peak. All eight tracks are meticulously structured, providing an excellent backdrop for Liddiard's dazzling poetry. His visions might seethe with uncomfortable observations and helplessness, yet there's something oddly captivating about these bruised ballads. Even though they seem bleak and uninviting on the surface, at the end of the day you can't help paying attention infatuated with their authentic emotional intensity.