Two Words Records, 2011, DD EP, 28m 12s
Listen hard, listen through the surface textures of Drowner’s debut release, and you will find a lot of the music is punchy and kinetic: that’s not how it presents itself, however, because they are punching through a big fluffy pillow of sonic goose down. This is music that is as much about its textures as anything else, and its textures are big, soft, spacious and enveloping. At times there are potentially harsh distortions, but they pass through abrasion into white noise, to flow over and through you like the sea.
Melody is the other major locus of E.P.’s creative endeavours: simple melodies, that stay within the expectations established by the harmony, and eschew any dissonance or confusing phrasing, are at the core of these songs. Simplicity does not mean the same thing as simplistic however. These tunes are carefully and knowingly crafted, quite deliberately taking the listener to places of their authors’ choosing, and sometimes unexpectedly pulling out the rug with a cunningly chosen chord change, as in ‘Point Dume’, the opener.
In fact, craft is in evidence everywhere on this lengthy EP (there are albums of the same duration, as originally released on vinyl). This is a tweaker’s masterclass, with every tone honed to perfection, and every element of the sound exactly positioned to create a consistent atmosphere from a disparate palette of materials. These are melodic songs, with creative arrangements, all of which is heard from a distance, as though the listener were outside the building in which they were being performed. For the ear to cross that distance, however, is a journey that rewards at every step: Drowner are restless in their search for new sounds, and the journey is one of constant timbral transformation.
For all this variety and creativity, the overall sound remains entirely warm and consistent, thanks partly to the expert use of reverb and echo, and partly to the consonant, well harmonised vocals. There are two competing forces at work here: the songs, that urge you to read their meanings, and feel their musical narratives, and the production, that directs the listener’s attention to a place from which the songs are almost interchangeable, simply agents for the generation of atmosphere. Of course it’s nice to have the choice, and I could never criticise music for working effectively on several levels, but sometimes I felt that the songs slipped past me without getting their due attention.
Paradoxically though, it’s when you give the songs the closest conscious attention that the atmospheres of this music envelop you most completely, swirling around your focus like waves, sneaking up on you like the soundtrack of a film. And these, I would guess, are some of the central musical meanings of the EP: this is a collection of songs, certainly, but I get the distinct impression that the songs are a pretext for the musical totality, rather than the arrangements and production serving the songs.
This is a recording of warmth, beauty, depth and creativity. If you listen closely you will be rewarded with a great deal of detail, and the evidence of careful craft. If you listen casually, you will still find yourself swept up and deposited in a place of Drowner’s making.