Album Review: Drenge - 'Strange Creatures'

Drenge’s 3rd studio album, Strange Creatures, due for release on the 22nd February is a thoroughly rambunctious affair characterised by loud, clunky guitars and an intelligent lyrical wit. It’s a record which demands your attention with a smorgasbord of sounds for your earholes: there’s the glitchy, ‘80’s-disco-gone-wrong’ bass-lines, the purgative guitar solos and vocalist Eoin loveless’ unforgiving Derbyshire twang to name but a few examples.

Following on from 2015’s Undertow and 2013’s self-titled debut Drenge, brothers Eoin and Rory Loveless along with Rob Graham have built themselves quite the cult following and this latest LP is certainly their most self-assured work to date. The album opens with the opening track of last year’s Bonfire of the City Boys EP and this is undeniably the album’s most exhilarating offering. Eoin Loveless’ vocals narrate with such a pedantic specificity that its hard to believe that he isn’t an android or at least part alien. There is a something beautifully romantic about about the sheer ridiculousness of the line ‘your eyes were like two Catherine wheels just spinning, spinning, spinning’.

Bonfire of the City Boys also contains one of the most cathartic, stimulating choruses you’re likely to hear this year. It acts as a rude, yet most welcome, introduction for the unsuspecting listener, an indication that Drenge are pumped full of enough gasoline to power at least sixteen and a half 1968 Ford Mustangs.

In their own words, Drenge call Strange Creatures a ‘nocturnal record … a psychological horror movie on wax’ and never is this more evident than on the unexpected ode to the rite of passage that is the Prom Night. Drenge’s Prom Night is far from romantic or tranquil– the listener is exposed to an array sensory images such as a boy vomiting up his canteen dinner, inexplicable wailing, and students marinated in blood. Regurgitated lumpy mash aside, for me, this is the album’s most beautifully crafted piece. It’s a slow-burning, cinematic masterpiece, with the rhythm guitar’s overdrive pedal turned up to at least 684. Upon first reaching 1:39, I genuinely spat out my already tepid tea, simultaneously soaking my laptop and splashing my sleeping spaniel (sorry Harvey). Suffice to say that the introduction of a saxophone was unanticipated. However, its inclusion serves to create the most sensational juxtaposition – its soothing, rich tones coupled with Drenge’s signature grunge-laden crunch makes Drenge’s Prom Night one to remember.

Speaking of juxtapositions, the album’s penultimate showcase, Avalanches, manages to incorporate what sounds like a piano as well as synth. These instruments become intertwined with the omnipresent overdriven guitars to create a track which is reminiscent of Drenge’s earlier works. Avalanches appears to be emotive and heartfelt, even if it is hard to understand the lyrics through the tempestuous guitars. Moreover, This Dance, ostensibly sounds like anything but a dance song, yet it succeeds in making me rock in my swivel chair and screw up my face (in a good way). The descending lead guitar is ethereal and is reinforced by the Rory Loveless’ merciless handiwork on the drums.

It’s rare for a record to be genuinely funny, but it would appear that the boys have a penchant for surreal wit. The album’s fourth track, Teenage Love, opens with the staccato delivery of the priceless line ‘milkshakes make me sick – lactose intolerant’ while No Flesh Road refers to being driven by boredom to ‘look for swear words in registration plates’. Moreover, in their exploration of robots, Autonomy, we are treated to Loveless’ comic speculations: ‘Do androids dream of electric sheep? Or do they dream of being naked in public and missing teeth?’. Drenge are able to generate truly witty lyrics and integrate them with the absurdity of the above lines in order to create songs which keep the listener engaged but also oblivious as to what might come next.

The album’s title track, Strange Creatures, is a relatively toned-down offering – but with a killer guitar riff that is grating in all the best ways, it characterises the album perfectly. It builds steadily into a noisy bathtub of passing sounds. This song is a reminder of how perfectly Strange Creatures (the album) would be alongside an 80s film, or even a classic videogame. The album is fairly conceptual, often focussing on fucked-up relationships, Halloween and the supernatural; this has the effect of streamlining the record into one sinuous collection of accounts.

Never See the Sings is another slower track, saturated in synth and ringing guitars. My initial notes on the song poetically read ‘Fucking 80s. Bass-line from a weird 80s pop disco gone wrong. Very nice’. By contrast, the closing piece, When I Look into Your Eyes features a moaning vocal loop, which serves to be the song’s melody, and is initially bolstered by a sole acoustic guitar. It is perhaps the LP’s most haunting exhibition; it begins as being discordant but transcends into a full band piece, complete with twizzly percussion noises and a guitar solo of the most raucous variety.

There are certainly parallels between this record and Drenge’s earlier works, as one might expect. For example, the ending of Autonomy is reminiscent of fan-favourite Running Wild with its vehement lead guitar; however, there is something fresh on display throughout Strange Creatures. It is a record which is considered and clever, but at the same time extemporaneous and volatile, and it is a strange assortment of songs that’re certainly best enjoyed as a collective. It succeeds in haunting and tickling and Drenge have certainly succeeded in birthing a thoroughly intriguing album. It’s a proper, old-fashioned, grungy rock record that somehow feels fresh and innovative. Come on guitar music.

Catch DRENGE at Rough Trade Nottingham on February 23rd 2019

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