My analysis of the Josh Johnson and David Murphy signings is up for Insiders.
Drenge is a duo act comprising brothers from Derbyshire, England, whose self-titled debut album dropped in the United Kingdom in mid-August and will come out here in January. First recommended to me by one of you, a promo copy Drenge came across my desk this week (figuratively, since it was via email), and it’s promising if uneven, an intriguing blend of rock styles from post-punk to grunge to garage with at least three standout tracks. (If you’re in the U.K. you can buy the album via amazon. Otherwise, you can stream it on Spotify below.)
Although the White Stripes have set the standard for guitar-and-drum rock duos, Drenge have a little more in common with Jeff the Brotherhood, another sibling act that opts for heavier riffs and a chunkier sound for the guitar, without Jack White’s peripatetic musical style. Guitarist Eion Loveless’ rhythm lines are loud and aggressive, with abrupt tempo changes and shifts from the cleaner post-punk of Gang of Four to the fuzzier sounds of early Soundgarden or vintage Mudhoney. You can even hear bits of darkwave in some of the slower tracks, like the latter half of “Nothing” or nearly all of the eight-minute non sequitur closer “Let’s Pretend,” which might also be the result of distant influences from Black Sabbath or Angel Witch.
Where Drenge separates itself from similarly lo-fi/garage acts is in the five-song stretch from the album’s second track, the grim “Dogmeat” (which reminds me of a slowed-down take on Shed Seven’s “Dolphin”), through the pleasantly annoying “Face Like a Skull.” That quintet includes the album’s first single and best track, “Bloodsports,” where the brothers Loveless start to borrow more heavily from UK superstars the Arctic Monkeys in sound and melodic strength. The energy on “Bloodsports” starts with the fast-paced guitar line behind the verses, a la the intro to Nirvana’s “Breed,” but kicks up another gear with the drum-less riff right after the chorus, a trick Jack White has long used to great effect. “Backwaters” is the disc’s closest thing to a pop track, like Radiohead’s “I Might Be Wrong” tidied up for mass consumption yet still sinister enough to deliver lines like “I never seen blood or milk mix so divine/I never seen such beauty so malign,” a line followed by a riff so heavy you think the boys are shifting into mid-80s thrash mode. “Gun Crazy” turns the tempo back up to punk speed, a song to make Mark Arm proud for its first half that adds some complexity with off-beat staccato strumming in its final thirty-second coda.
The remainder of the album is far less consistent, including “Let’s Pretend,” which feels out of place and thoroughly bombastic for clocking in at twice the length of the next-longest song, “Fuckabout,” which is about as intellectually or aurally pleasing as the title indicates. “I Wanna Break You in Half” works as a suitably obnoxious fast-paced sub-two-minute track, but the same conceit flops on the unfunny “I Don’t Wanna Make Love to You” or the opener “People In Love Make Me Feel Yuck.” Eoin seems capable of lyrical subtletly, but too often settles for a sledgehammer to the forehead with a joke that feels like we’ve heard it a dozen times before. That can improve with experience and maturity, but Drenge’s ability to craft memorable hooks and evoke so many different eras in songs typically just two to three minutes long is already plus.
I also received a copy of the new album Field of Reeds by another English act, These New Puritans, which comprises twin brothers plus a third member, although the disc includes prominent contributions from over thirty-eight session musicians (per Wikipedia). I’ve previously mentioned the lead single, “Fragment Two,” which is also by far the album’s most conventional track in song structure, although even its music rarely follows the rules of modern rock music. I feel underqualified to talk about the album, given its experimental and highly artistic nature, with only Talk Talk’s Laughing Stalk coming to mind as a reference point (and I wouldn’t even say I know that album that well). The overwhelming sense I got from Field of Reeds was one of vastness, of the attempts to fill enormous ranges of space with haunting sounds that expanded upon release but never managed to reach the area’s borders. There are moments on the album of beauty, and just as many moments where it appears the band is trying to create a form of anti-music. As someone who tends to choose singles over albums, and gravitates towards melody over sonic textures, however, I found myself coming back to “Fragment Two” and the hynpotic “Organ Eternal,” the album’s two most accessible tracks. Field of Reeds is for mature listeners only.