Alt-rock that hits all the familiar notes
Somehow I was expecting more. The Droves' full-length debut Out Of Herself is competent enough but brings little new to the table. Christian Gibbs' vocals are thin and whiny in a familiar alt-rock way, and the guitars are suitably grinding and fuzzy. In fact, "familiar" is the operative word here: little enough is distinctive about this band, or at least this record.
All this is true for opening track "Mackenzie", while follow-up tune "Plexi and Tandem" brings a creaky falsetto into the mix that's so reminiscent of MGMT it's almost creepy. After that, songs fall into mid-tempo same-ness until "Tiny Skin" pops up several tracks later. Building from a nervous, finger-picking start, "Tiny Skin" channels a sinister vibe courtesy of a descending bass line and vaguely threatening lyrics. Is this a harbinger of something more?
Well, yes and no. Things start to get better -- somewhat -- from this point on. "Agatha" winds around an off-kilter riff, bringing some much-needed, straightforward rock 'n roll energy into what had been a meandering record. Simple without being simplistic, "Agatha" serves as a palate-cleanser of sorts, setting up the back half of the record and its pleasures. Scattered applause suggests the track was recorded live, which might be a telling detail.
"Dying Fits of Laughter" slows the tempo but builds a melody upon thick slabs of guitar chords and squealing, squalling fretwork. Suddenly, the record sounds almost fresh (almost), and the trend continues through title track "Out of Herself". At six-plus minutes, it's the longest song on the album, a mini-epic that builds from a low-key beginning to squally, climactic crescendo-cum-fadeout. It's not quite enough to overcome the album's slow start, but it's a welcome development nonetheless, and bodes well for the band's future efforts.
It's always tricky to say something like "the band’s sound is too limited" because that suggests that all the possibilities have been exhausted for the basic rock template of guitar, bass, drums and vocals. I'm a long way from believing that, but a band like this makes me wonder if that day is growing near. Fuzzy guitars, whiny-sung vocals, drums that hit the big notes with a bang -- there are four or five songs here that utilize these elements well, while the rest remain forgettable even after repeated listens. I want to think this is due to the band, not to some inherent limitation in rock music itself.
After "Out of Herself", the album flags again, although "Better Than You" is a capable acoustic-based song that sounds like a dozen others you can’t quite name, and raucous instrumental album closer "Then They Were Three" winds things up with a bang.
The question remains, though: how good is good enough? The Droves certainly are the modern iteration of rock music with competence and occasional passion, and if that's adequate to earn some rotation on your stereo system, you may find this album worth your time. But listeners seeking that extra something memorable, or skewed, or dark, or gothic, or compelling, or -- well, anything at all really -- may find that they need to look elsewhere.