You could call The Drones “blues rock,” but they sound nothing like the Bud-swilling house band at your uncle’s favorite local dive. You could also call them “garage rock,” but they sound a hell of a lot better than most three-chord wonders that go by such a term. This Australian band could be called a lot of things, but they’re far better than the sum of their easy to drop genre identifiers. On their third album, Gala Mill, The Drones certainly display hints of blues, garage, post-punk, and to a smaller degree, psychobilly, they’re a far more complex band than that.
Much like fellow countryman Nick Cave, to whom the band has also received a fair amount of comparisons, The Drones are deft style shifters, easily able to leap from a blistering rocker to a soulful dirge with one track’s separation. Yet in each track on Gala Mill, there’s an unbearable tenseness, an unspeakable power, and a fierce desperation. When frontman Gareth Liddiard howls “I’d love to see you again” on crashing, intense opener “Jezebel,” it’s less an invitation than a cry for help. Yet it’s strangely offset by the gentleness of “Dog Eared,” a looser, more spacious affair, as is the harrowing drug addiction ballad “I’m Here Now,” and “Words from the Executioner to Andrew Pierce,” a historical account of a cannibalistic killer. It’s subtle and it doesn’t strike you immediately, but the closer you listen, the scarier the track becomes.
The Drones go for a more direct and raucous rock `n’ roll sound on “I Don’t Ever Want to Change,” which recalls more closely the sound of their previous album, Wait Long by the River and the Bodies of Your Enemies Will Float By. And on “Are You Leaving For the Country,” the band takes on a more melodic, rootsy sound, much like that of The Band or Being There era Wilco. Yet despite more accessible moments like these, Gala Mill is an album of space and of absence. By being able to stretch out into longer and more slowly building compositions, The Drones have grown into a much subtler, and thus more effective monster. You may not be able to detect the impending attack, but once they strike, it’s twice as deadly.
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.