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******** – The Drink

Dan Webb

Sungenre Album of the Month – January 2018

Are you having a laugh? Surely this must be a joke, a ruse, some kind of elaborate prank? Having received an advance stream link from Weird World, a Domino Recording Co. subsidiary, for an album by a band referred to only as ********, I had slight hesitation and many questions. Would a degree in cryptography be required to understand this anomaly? Although, with an album title and biography alluding heavily to Guinness, perhaps cracking open a can of beer may be the best approach.

******** is a British two-piece, comprised of Ailie Ormston and a mysterious figure, Ω. The Drink is their debut and only album. Originally uploaded to YouTube in September 2016, it will be re-released for a limited run of CD and vinyl on January 26 (pre-order here).

The instrumental opener is comprised of a repetitive synth bass line and a frenetic lo-fi drum loop punctuated by wood stick claps, in a style reminiscent of classic new wave outfits such as Devo or Models. An abrasive, squealing, indeterminable electric instrument soars overhead. Sampling of a laughing crowd in the left channel is somewhat reminiscent of The BeatlesSgt. Pepper album.

The unease of the title track contrasts with the immediate relief and relative calm of the next song. “I’m a Zookeeper (Not a Goalkeeper)” is driven by surf guitar and casiotone keyboard, carefully constructed with delicate, deceptively intricate layers. The instrumentation at the beginning calls to mind Damon Albarn‘s electro pop outfit Gorillaz. Albarn’s influence on this album is arguably far-reaching, with vocal delivery and production on this and many of the proceeding tracks reminiscent of the 90s output of his other group, Blur.

“Trish” sounds like an unrelenting, childlike taunt with the repetitive vocal phrase “we need Trisha, Trisha”, coupled with sparse, twangy guitar and simplistic toy piano and organ. “It’s Jerry Springer and then it’s Dr. Phil, but I want Trisha, Trisha” is a throwaway line signifying the point at which this album ceases to be a mere fascination. From this point, The Drink showcases the songwriters’ knack for constructing songs which resonate profoundly on both personal and cultural levels.

“Kinderpunsch” starts with a very cheesy, recognisable introduction which is interrupted with hacked electro drums, 80s synth pad and a creeping post-punk bass line in a style which calls to mind David Bowie. The songwriters don’t shy away from this influence, referring to a well-known retailer as “Marks and Sparks”, as Bowie did in “All the Young Dudes”, and applying free form saxophone at the midway point. The somewhat humorous lyrical content of the song successfully paints a refreshingly honest and bleak picture of the holiday season, along with the expectations placed on society at that time of year to consume at any expense.

Upon first listen, “Bowling Green”, with its dissonant, circus-like instrumentation, sounded like a track in which the protagonist is resigned to the fact that clowns run the world. This analogy feels highly in-tune with the current state of world politics, especially given that the track title is seemingly alluding to Kellyanne Conway’s infamous Bowling Green massacre blunder. But her gaffe occurred in 2017, many months after the original release of this album.

“Signs of Life in the Computer” speaks truthfully about the omnipresence of technology and its impact on our emotions and social interactions. The song explores the proliferation of social media and the burden it has placed on many of its users to behave in certain ways or to live up to perceived expectations, often with unintended consequences.

The intro to “Schweppes Bitter Lemon” sounds somewhat like a soundtrack to a spaghetti western. A very simple, yet effective, alternating two-note bass line allows the nonchalant vocal melody adequate space. Incessant murmurings, seemingly sampled from a television broadcast, serve to illustrate the pervasiveness of consumerism’s constant nagging.

At times repetitive, unpredictable and even seemingly uninspired, The Drink is truly reflective of modern life in Western society. The mysterious post-punk outfit ******** have delivered a truly captivating, refreshingly honest, well-timed and much needed album. It’s a bitter disappointment to learn that this will be the duo’s only outing.