Album Review: Drenge - Undertow

Album Reviews
Gerrit Feenstra

When last we saw Eoin and Rory Loveless, they were making snotty garage rock for boys not yet men who were sick to death of love, and they were doing it in style. The brother duo Drenge found a way to blend some mixture of romance, boyhood, and senseless violence into an addictive, invigorating mixture. The band's self-titled debut, led by singles like "Bloodsports", "Dogmeat", and "Backwaters", moved forward at breakneck speed for 10 tracks with no regard for anyone standing in their way, then went on an eight minute existential crisis on "Let's Pretend" then gave up any semblance of forward motion altogether on the lovably defeated "Fuckabout". Truly, taking their name after the Danish word for "boys", Drenge made a record that deserved its title. Sex, death, fist fights, and rock n roll - what else is there to love? But for outing number 2, the Loveless brothers are taking boyhood to darker territory, taking into account not only the daunting horizon of adulthood, but also the age of technology and isolation in which we live. With an expanded and expansive three man setup (adding bassist Rob Graham), Drenge give us Undertow, an album that builds on its predecessor in every imaginable way.

The biggest shift in Drenge's angle on Undertow is also its most apparent: a shift in perspective. Where on Drenge, the Loveless brothers were set on reaction ("I want to break you in half", "People in love make me feel yuck", etc.), here, they place their focus more heavily on opportunity. The glimmer on the freedoms of youth has faded, but in its place has come a realization of how to exercise that freedom instead of just acknowledging it. Undertow's first single is aptly named "We Can Do What We Want", and its video (directed by Ed Loveless) explains the whole gambit. In it, a gang of young men, all dressed somewhere between Clockwork Orange and Funny Games, wreak complete havoc on a small town, destroying a pool hall (almost a direct toss-out to Clockwork Orange) and pillaging a restaurant. This sense of opportunism is hinted at earlier on the record, with the no line on the horizon anthem "Running Wild". Even in the flames of a nasty breakup on "Never Awake", Eoin realizes that most of the communication issues at hand are a result of denial - not letting go and embracing the freedom so easily at hand. So where does the emerging young man full of promise turn to violence and chaos? Well, isn't that always the question?

On Drenge, the obsession with blood and punching people in the teeth was a product of observation. On Undertow, the brothers find themselves pulled into a cosmic tug of war. For the rest of the record, constant conflicts between desire and realization result in a choice. Instead of a mere reaction, there is now opportunity to make an impact - the infectious and altogether dangerous blessing of adulthood. This time around, the Loveless brothers understand what they want. Their desires are more grounded ("Favorite Son"), and the consequences of action are real ("The Woods"). The internal battle in the middle of these is the dark country road on which Drenge find themselves here. Yes, we can do what we want, but the undertow of violence and chaos seems to always tug lightly at our jackets.

But towards the end of the record, the Loveless brothers revisit the source of all the tumult. It is (as we know so well from the album's primary source of thematic material) the choice to feel or to act according to the institution. The album's last two tracks are pure emotion. "Standing In The Cold" recalls a dream of love dashed in the cold of night. The feeling of rejection mixed with the freezing cold causes numbness, and it's easier to be numb and incite fear than to possess true human understanding. On "Have You Forgotten My Name", the Loveless brothers drive around a devastated landscape where shame seems to hide around every corner. Here again, the question is posed: which is better, to feel and to hurt or to not feel and to thrive on inhumanity? The funny thing is, the way that Drenge pose it, it feels less like a dystopian novel and more like that impossible thing which is boyhood. They are growing up, but not without a healthy amount of growing pains.

Musically, the addition of Graham on bass makes all the difference for Drenge. The aggressive, brutal garage rock of the first record has been fleshed out into some really fine songwriting on Undertow. Yes, there is still plenty of room for a kickass hook-driven barn burner ("Never Awake") and a face-melting guitar solo or ten ("Undertow"), but with Graham on the bass, Rory has some help setting the foundation and letting Eoin really show off on top without sacrificing substance. This is seen in brilliant form on "The Snake", which fans got to hear in the two-man setup format on Drenge's last tour in support of the self-titled record. Here now, the song has been fleshed out to a massive, blistering radio-ready anthem, complete with a phenomenal outro where Graham mirrors Eoin's riff on the bass and they just ham it up in lovely fashion. Finally, "Standing In The Cold" expands on the endless angst of "Let's Pretend" off the self-titled album in great form, complete with the album's best guitar solo and best instrumentation across the board. It is evident with Undertow that the Lovless brothers are building in every area. If this streak keeps up, it won't be long until Drenge are topping festival lineups in the States as well as in the UK. Undertow puts another fantastic record in Drenge's reportoire, and it also helps us remember that the young men who go to all the bloodsports maybe feel more than us all.

Undertow is out now on Infectious Records. Grab it at your local record store on CD or vinyl. Drenge will tour the States in support of Undertow, and you can catch them at the Sunset Tavern on June 4. Last time they played the Sunset, they tore the roof off for ten people. With Undertow in the repertoire, you don't want to miss this. Grab tickets here.

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