Strange Creatures - Drenge

(album out 22 February 2019 through Liberator Music/Infectious Music/BMG)

1. Bonfire Of The City Boys
2. This Dance
3. Autonomy
4. Teenage Love
5. Strange Creatures
6. Prom Night
7. No Flesh Road
8. Never See The Signs
9. Avalanches
10. When I Look Into Your Eyes

Drenge are a band who have always thought of their music in visual terms. It’s one reason why their records possess such high intensity and ignite such visceral enjoyment. How many other rock groups would cite the fact that a season of films by Russian auteur Andrei Tarkovsky was a key influence on their new record?

If Drenge’s thrillingly raw, self-titled 2013 debut was their low-budget slash and gash opening shot, and 2015’s Undertow the moodily atmospheric follow-up (“Gun Crazy as scored by The Cure” to borrow Eoin’s turn of phrase), then their forthcoming third album is their eerie, neon-lit, John Carpenter-styled masterpiece.

Strange Creatures arrives after months of the band’s chiselling away, ripping themes and ideas apart, sewing them back together, stepping away and coming back with fresh ears. The album is a collection of thundering tunes whose spiked mania and delicious melodies come smeared with creeping unease. It’s a world where B-movie synthesisers and razor-sharp guitar lines slash their way through warped visions and unsettling fever dreams: ten tales illuminated red by passing tail lights, an outsider’s eye cast over outwardly normal situations to reveal the horror beneath.

“Once we got the song ‘Strange Creatures’ we were like, ‘OK, we’ve got to make this album spooky’,” recalls Rory. “That was the test it had to pass: is it spooky?”

Opener ‘Bonfire Of The City Boys’ is the perfect scene setter for this set of mini musical movies: a brutalist fuzz bass line pounding a beat as Eoin casts himself as the disorientated, disgusted observer of nightmarish visions of greed and hollow masculinity.

“Talking like that, being the outsider, perhaps hasn’t permeated all our songs before,” notes the singer, “But we’re both weirdos, even where we’re from.”

It’s no great surprise to discover that after a four year absence Drenge can still create aural fireworks with the most rudimentary of ingredients, but on Strange Creatures they’ve delved into a box of electronics and synthesisers to add fresh layers of depth and squelching, shimmering colour. Be it the crepuscular synthplay on ‘Teenage Love’ or the doom-laden organ underpinning the uneasy soundworld of the title track, the song which initially lit that creative spark for what would follow.

“We definitely thought about the sounds of things. There are sounds that we would never have done on the last two records,” says Rory. “We were just trying it out, ‘Oh right, this is a bit weird…’ and enjoyed it.”

“Sometimes, a song appears fully formed and ready to go,’ says Eoin. “And sometimes, a song just needs time to ferment. Fine tuning small details, nipping between songs, picking out small things and accentuating them until they take over or become something else entirely. The result is the most considered record we have ever made.”

Perhaps conversely, Strange Creatures also features the most pop-friendly melodies of their career to date. Chances are you’ve already heard the New Wave power punch of ‘Autonomy’ on the radio and it’s by no means an anomaly. ‘Never See The Signs’ has all the off-kilter pop genius of peak XTC, while the shuffling acoustic blues of closer ‘When I Look Into Your Eyes’ comes flanked by a cartoonish approximation of 1950s doo-wop, via some ‘zombie Elvis’ backing vocals.

Keeping things in the family, highlight ‘Prom Night’ features saxophone from the pair’s father – a freeform, Funhouse squall howling along with the crunch and grind of guitar. That song is also one of the best examples of the lyrical world Strange Creatures inhabits. Outwardly about a massacre at a high school prom, it’s actually a satirical take on our second hand digestion of American culture. This commentary comes up repeatedly in Strange Creatures’ imagery: crap 1950s-style diners at the motorway services, congealed milkshakes and peculiarly British details, right down to the sweat-stained brown leather coat on ‘No Flesh Road’. It’s those images that give the record both a sense of locale and its sense of humour.

“It’s a nocturnal record,” says Eoin. “A psychological horror movie on wax. Warped hallucinations from mundane observations as you move through it. Is that a school or a skyscraper on fire in the distance? Or maybe it’s just the ski village? You drive nearer, past roadside diners jammed with dancing teenagers, through Uncanny Valley, past the most unhygienic nightclub in the world. The stereo sounds like it’s going to fall apart at any moment. The car judders to a halt and all you can hear is the sound of the sea.”

It’s all part of the filter that makes Strange Creatures come out as its own unique, singular little world.

“The things that we were listening to, the things that we were watching, we didn’t know how it was going to be [at the end],” thinks Rory.

Once they’ve unleashed Strange Creatures on the world, Drenge may struggle to control this particular beast.

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