Drowners claimed their title for ‘Alt Britpop Kings’ a few years ago, while once portraying everything a good indie band needed: catchy riffs, lyrics about lost love and partying, an attractive frontman and an air of bubblegum recklessness. After a few years hiding out in New York under the radar, On Desire, released on Frenchkiss Records shows that in time boys have become men and voices can still break well into your late 20’s.
Nostalgia is heavily present from start to finish. Troublemaker opens up the record with a lengthy start, but 11 seconds in you’ll hear the chord that floated its way through every track on the self-entitled 2014 release (Drowners), and you’ll feel like you’re home. Model-turned-frontman Matt Hitt may have a new vocal sound with added confidence, but the instrumentals in this first track have voyaged back to the 80’s with its sonic paced riffs and jittering drums. A decent pick to start off the record, as it showcases musical elements once foreign to the foursome.
Crucially, this album oozes growth. Every perfectly curated element combined to make this record has been poured in with a density similar to molten steel. Sincere lyrics about love and loss confidently cascade through each track, boldly accompanied by a sturdy, well calculated bass line throughout. Boppy teens with cigarettes hanging from their mouths have evolved into cynical heart-aching adults and this album is an ode to them. “So when I leave tonight with someone by my side, all the time I’ll make believe it’s you” suggests teenage heartbreak never heals, paired with “Desire doesn’t fade, it only gets replaced”, thus revealing the bands modern dark edge.
Someone Else Is Getting In is a nod to their former selves with added harmonies and is predominantly more rhythmically robust. Specifically, in this track you can distinguish major influences from the likes of The Cure and The Smiths which feature on a lot of the album. This could be the albums only – yet major – downfall. Whilst the familiar synths and lyrics of lost love (“oh you wanted out, I left you for a while and in that time someone else is getting in”) work well in the boys’ favour, it could also be considered a lazy bypass instead of creating something ‘new’. The track Another Go is a further example of the heavy influence of 80’s jangly guitars and the theme of bittersweet melancholy. The bridge is undeniably dominated by guitarist Jack Ridley’s ability to infuse Robert Smith’s notorious synth rhythms with muscularly modern riffs. But even if there is a real sense of ‘heard it all before’, this album shows there’s no harm in revisiting something that once was. Whilst the similarities are there, Hitt and crew do well to embrace them.
Dreams Don’t Count is where producer-engineer, Claudius Mitterndorfer’s presence is really caught. Having previously worked with Arctic Monkeys, this track sounds like it could’ve been an extra on Suck it and See, with its sulky chords and Hitt’s voice echoing Alex Turner’s. This continues throughout Conversations With Myself and dangerously teeters on the edge of becoming a mimic. Alas with lyrics such as “When I find the words I want to say the door is locked and I can’t find a way out” they do uneasily-but-surely pull away from this copycat theme and return to their new-found dark pop edge.
Pick Up The Pace takes a break from being predominantly a head-bopping record and throws you full swing into the realm of hand-jiving funk. “I have searched all along these roads and terraces for you, I have searched all the terraces for you” Hitt reminds us of his English (Welsh) country boy roots by using the word “terrace” – which doesn’t register with our across the Atlantic friends. This element is refreshing – listening back to their 2014 album after listening to On Desire, you undoubtedly hear how Americanised Hitt has become. Which in turn, explains the hugely prominent twang of ‘post-LA Turner’ in his voice; perhaps purely being a universal punishment for English men spending too long across the pond.
Throughout the record Drowners have managed to create an authentic boiling pot of combined new and old sounds. They’ve succeeded in making a perfectly likeable album that swirls together a mixture of melodies suitable to dance and mope around to. Track to track, it’s a strong comeback and makes for a decent, long awaited second album.
Words by Laura Copley