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The Drones : I See Seaweed

Gareth Liddiard has never been one to shy away from expressing the way things are and he again goes straight for the jugular on his band’s latest album, I Sea Seaweed. In the past, the Drones-eye-view has been entrenched in the surrounding landscape and its people. So while there’s something quintessentially Australian about The Drones, with their passionate local fans lapping up their visceral live shows, it's hard to imagine their music translating and making much of an impact overseas.

 

The strong sense of place is retained here, but they also branch out and move to more universal themes. Most importantly, this is a confident jump up in quality after 2008’s variable Havilah. The band play to their strengths, marking a triumphant return to bloody, bruised rock epics.

 

The lyric that best sums up the album, is the succinct "life is cruel". The album offers a bleak view of a beaten-down population who are “lockstepping in their millions”, with a sense of helplessness relieved by the rumbling outrage of the louder peaks of the songs; when they crash in, they’re like wrecking balls against the big, brick walls of an unfeeling world. A lyric like Laika’s "half a pound of sugar on an old blackboard" sounds at home in a social realist ballad, but it's a punch in the gut when delivered with such venom and menace.

 

The mid-album cut, Nine Eyes, is a walk down a personal memory lane, with a Google street-view perspective given a creepy, possessive undercurrent. The insistent "I'm all I need" of the chorus is at odds with the insecure, obsessive ownership issues of the verses. "What kind of asshole drives this lime green Commodore?" sneers Liddiard, equal parts disturbing and funny.

 

Laika follows the story of a dog shot into space as part of the controversial Russian space trials of the '50s, the victim a stray who was always intended to perish. It builds up to a thundering takeoff into space, a blood-soaked Space Oddity. Whether they’re dogs or underdogs, Liddiard's characters are fighting against the odds and helplessly weighted down by a harsh, cruel reality. It all comes to a head in the fiery closing track, Why Write A Letter That You'll Never Send. After a gentle acoustic intro, it crawls ominously to its halfway point. It then lets rip, erupting into a rant about everything from the holocaust to the Vatican, even wily a dig at Band Aid. This is the best kind of anger management, surely?

 

I Sea Seaweed’s eight songs are brash, rallying and raucous, but also insecure, unhinged and pessimistic. It’s that brilliant juxtaposition of conflicting emotions that has always marked The Drones as more than just an everyday garage-rock band and here they’re on commanding form.

 

BY CHRIS GIRDLER

 

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