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What is the real Australia? The Drones tear the myth apart on Feelin Kinda Free

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Gareth Liddiard – who looks like and exudes, respectively, both the musical expertise and loose unit nonchalance of Karnivool mastermind Drew Goddard and mulleted footballer Ivan Maric – has got a lot to vent about. In his band The Drones’ seventh album, Feelin Kinda Free, he shoots so many daggers in the direction of all things Australiana that, actually, you can understand why he feels so cathartic doing so.

Feelin Kinda Free

In case you needed reminding, The Drones are Australia’s best alternative rock band, and they prove their right to the title with Feelin Kinda Free.

The daggers he’s been shooting have been so pointy that they’ve even attracted the attention of Andrew Bolt. After all, in lead single Taman Shud, Liddiard sings “I don’t care about no Andrew Bolt” and the accompanying video clip shows Bolt as a sea monster.

Taken aback by such an affront Bolt beat his chest in defiance via an addendum to an unrelated blog, posting the Taman Shud video and not only offered his opinion on The Drones’ music (“stamping on the ashes of the West’s musical traditions”) but also pompously declared that “critics like these make me feel I’m offending exactly the right kind of people”.

Bolt also probably wishes he called them dumb-dumb birdbrains when he had the chance. Really, Bolt’s criticisms feed the album’s themes. For instance, in one of the less invective-filled moments of the album, the very beginning of Taman Shud, Liddiard sings: “Thud, thud, my hearts pumps blood, whenever someone talks about my Taman Shud“.

In this case, ‘Taman Shud’ is being used as allegory to the missing case of Australian identity. So when Liddiard says those opening lines, and Bolt takes the bait like the sea monster he’s depicted as, all the poetic strings twine together. What’s more, Liddiard chose to use Taman Shud as also an allegory to cultural cringe because as he says, “Everyone in America knows about the whole fucking thing, but no one in Australia is interested in anything Australia.” Case in point: the penultimate track on The Black Queen’s Fever Daydream is also called Taman Shud.

‘Taman Shud’ is the name for an unresolved mystery. A suited man was found sitting upright, with no physical hints to his cause of death, on an Adelaide beach in 1948. The only identifier he had on him was a Persian phrase, ‘tamam shud’, which means ‘finished’, written on a scrap of paper that was found in his trouser pocket. Read the Wikipedia entry, seriously; it’s a very creepy case.

The lyrical content of every song on this album could be deeply explored, such is the expertise of Liddiard’s wordsmithing. The opening song Private Execution, with its masterful chorus “I’m feeling kinda free/ I’m going to straight to DVD” that crowbars open this album’s thematic pandora box, as well as the entirety of To Think That I Once Loved You and Shut Down SETI are but a few worthy mentions.

Anyway, enough of that, time for the music. Firstly, The Drones are probably the best alternative rock band in Australia. They’re billed as an indie rock band, but as the Arctic Monkeys’ history shows us, indie rock is a rather loose definition. The Drones certainly check all the indie boxes, but to leave them with just that description is pretty inaccurate.

They certainly don’t sound like The National or Arcade Fire, probably the two standard bearers of the indie rock definition. The Drones have rather taken after the noir, bluesy and sometimes plodding scorched-earth path lit by Nick Cave, with their songs sometimes descending into minimalism, such is their aura of listlessness. Like Cave, Liddiard usually lets his drawl and native intonations get the better of his vocalisations.

On Feelin Kinda Free, Liddiard and his Drones have taken the same path as every lazy music writer’s favourite career change cliche: Radiohead. Liddiard claims that all the effects emanate from guitars, but time and again Feelin Kinda Free features sounds eerily mechanical and electronic. Take for instance, the theremin-like sounds humming behind To Think… (which, by the way, is the most traditional sounding Drones track on Feelin Kinda Free) and the track following, Tailwind.

The album is introduced, in two parts, by similar whirring sounds, as a kickstart-electronic sound soon melts into a horror circus vibe at the beginning of Private Execution. These newfound tones continually evolve and mutate throughout the album.

For instance the later and adjacent tracks Boredom and Sometimes incorporate and consolidate a disparate range of noises than hang both tracks – which still sound wildly different, mind – on a line that includes art rock allusions, analog science-fiction beeps (including a chord progression quite similar to the X-Files theme), and baroque freak show vibes. Boredom could be neatly described as a clunky Trent Reznor and St. Vincent duet, in the style of polka music, that somehow works incredibly well.

The prizes of this album undoubtedly go out to the first three tracks: Private ExecutionTaman Shud, and Then They Came For Me. As well as incorporating The Drones recently discovered, ahem, drone, these songs also promote a somewhat upbeat version of The Drones that is hard to find amongst the dourness and obfuscating bluesy feedback of past efforts.

Within the opening (rounded-up) fourteen minutes, this album is sold as the masterstroke that it is. The opening trio of songs have their own individual charm, and all deftly execute the long-song, the sore-thumb genreless single and the slow mover, heavy hitter formats. Afterwards, To Think… and the experimental and sore songs round up Feelin Kinda Free.

There’s a reason The Drones are unanimously recommended on the contrarian cesspit of the internet that is 4chan; that’s because they’re really fucking good. They fully deserve the title of the best alternative rock band in Australia (if that exists; Tony Abbott would have done well to introduce that rather than the Sirs and the Dames) and Feelin Kinda Free. It’s musically reckless, thought-provoking, and most of all, contains really good songs.

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March 10, 2016

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