Havilah is the fourth studio album from The Drones, who have been playing and recording together in one form or another since the late 1990s, steadily gaining in popularity and acclaim as they have gone along.
The first thing to note is that they are an extremely Australian band. Once your ears adjust to the strong Aussie accent of lead singer Gareth Liddiard, (immediately and most strongly apparent on the first track, Nail It Down), this becomes less a matter of distraction, but – at least initially – it is something that makes a pretty strong impression, perhaps because of the dearth of other artists out there at the moment singing in anything other than American (real or ‘faked’), Swedish, or English Libertines-Cockernee-Knees-Up accents. Right, with that over and dealt with, then, what of the music?
The Drones make overridingly masculine music, with big, ballsy, no-nonsense instrumentation and gruff-to-abrasive vocals, whether on the faster or slower-paced tracks. Don’t make the mistake of dismissing it as dumb, though – this is a smart, and often emotionally articulate take on machismo.
So for every exhortation to “nail it down” (from the no-messing and increasingly riotous opening track), or aggressive claim that “Instead of shedding tears I’ve learned to drink that piss instead” (from The Minotaur) there is a concomitant sensitive and perceptive line like “Was I the bullseye or the launch pad? / I could never find the switch” from the melancholy and possibly lovelorn The Drifting Housewife, or striking and poetic imagery and analogies: “The shadows come in the afternoon / Make the warmth withdraw like a dive-bell sinks” (Luck In Odd Numbers).
The feel is quite psychedelic-bluesy throughout (recalling Van Morrison, oddly enough, on slower tracks like The Drifting Housewife, Cold and Sober and Luck in Odd Numbers), and also occasionally grunge-like in places. Tracks like Nail It Down, I Am The Supercargo and, particularly, Luck In Odd Numbers exceed the six minute mark with some extended riffage, managing, more or less, to avoid accusations of overindulgence.
The two tracks that form the album’s bookends are also its two highlights. Final track Your Acting’s Like The End Of The World (sic: presumably a play on words) is one of the most straightforward, and an enjoyable ballad that sounds almost jaunty, despite claiming that “Your doom and gloom has got to me”.
Not a bad addition to the Antipodean canon then, and an interesting mix of the macho, the sensitive, the timeless and the “cool right now” – although one suspects that the latter is not something the band have deliberately aspired to.