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Shriek of the Week: Drowners, “Long Hair”

March 12, 2014

Downers_frontThere are worse things than sounding like other great bands. It’s impossible to listen to the self-titled debut record from New York City’s Drowners without hearing their many influences. To start with, the band gets its name from the 1992 debut single by Suede, so they’ve conditioned the listener from the outset to look for comparisons. That said, the template for this music isn’t really found in 1990s Brit-pop. I don’t hear Suede, or for that matter Blur, Oasis, or any of their contemporaries. For their sound Drowners draw mostly from a later era, namely early 2000s New York City indie rock, with a little ’80s thrown in. Don’t take it from me though; here’s what some of the leading critics have to say:

  • Pitchfork: “… in the split second between knowing the band’s name and pressing play on Drowners, you can be overwhelmed with the daunting influence of Suede rather than the Strokes and Arctic Monkeys. It’s your last chance, though, so enjoy it while you can. Thing is, Drowners is actually plenty enjoyable on its own merits, provided you can look past a derivativeness that’s so naive, it’s almost charming. There are plenty of bands for whom Is This It and Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not are canonical, formative listens, their Led Zeppelin IV, their Revolver. If you realized that you could sound just like them, you might be pretty stoked, too. …And for the most part, Drowners’ ability or willingness to recall two and only two bands at the same time is actually pretty impressive; you’d be led to believe that there was no real difference between the Strokes and Arctic Monkeys. Hitt’s accent and phrasing are dead ringers for those of Alex Turner, whereas his slackened melodies and preferred vocal EQ’ing are uncanny Is This It, evoking a gritty, yet liveable pre-Giuliani New York City that doesn’t exist anymore.  On the other hand, goddamn does this sound like two and only two bands.”
  • Rolling Stone: “Drowners play what they’ve called “friendly post-punk” – crisp, bright Anglo-Eighties guitar pop bristling with the coy cockiness of posh bros who never get much resistance at closing time. Their full-length debut piles on Johnny Marr allusions … It’s kind of weird no one thought of this sooner: It’s the Smiths reborn as the Strokes.”
  • NME: “New York’s Drowners take their name from one of Suede’s singles, but their self-titled debut album suggests a band digging back further than the ’90s Britpop revival, right back into the heart of the jangly ’80s. Guitarist Jack Ridley evidently worships at the altar of Johnny Marr, while songs such as ‘Unzip Your Harrington’ wear their second-hand Englishness with pride. … but where they really excel is when they slip back into the 21st century: see ‘Bar Chat’, which fizzes along with pure garage-rock fury, frontman Matt Hitt adopting a Casablancas snarl and uncovering Drowners’ real potential as he goes.”

Drowners_backEven critics who despise the album quickly cite the influences:

  • The Guardian: “the opening track on the New York-based group’s debut album, couldn’t be any more Strokesy if it turned up late for interviews and started making half-arsed solo spinoff records. … it’s apparent Drowners’ presiding influence is actually the Smiths, but in common with so many groups inspired by that most individual band, they lack what made the Smiths special: Morrissey’s lyrical facility and acuity, and Johnny Marr’s ability to make something unexpected out of the most commonplace ingredients. On Watch You Change, especially, you can pretty much play Smiths instrumental bingo, chalking off the elements you’ve heard before.”

That review by the Guardian is a little hypocritical. It’s not like Drowners are the first (or will be the last) band to sound a lot like the Strokes. Here’s what that same publication wrote about another debut album almost exactly two years to the day prior to the Drowners review:

Howler’s problem is this: how do you cause a pop cataclysm with your debut album when it already sounds secondhand? Secondhand because, as every piece you will read about the Minneapolis band will mention (it’s impossible to avoid), they sound almost exactly like the Strokes did when their own debut really did cause a pop cataclysm. The production has that same hazy rawness, Jordan Gatesmith’s voice has that insouciant slur, the guitars alternate between fuzz and twang. So the success of America Give Up depends entirely on the quality of the songs, and Howler have enough good ones to remind you of how good the Strokes used to be, rather than make you think how much better the Strokes are than this. The opening four – Beach Sluts, Back to the Grave, This One’s Different and America – sprint out of the traps as if racing the listener to the end of the disc, and after a slight mid-album sag the closing run, kicked off by last year’s quite brilliant single Told You Once, matches them. Scoffers will ask: is this it? But the answer is: it’s quite good enough for now.

Sound familiar? As long as there are guitars and young men who want to thrill New York City and/or London by showing them off, there will be bands that sound a lot like the Strokes. We should appreciate this. As far as I’m concerned, you add one part Smiths, two parts Strokes, and a dash of Arctic  Monkeys (and for what it’s worth I hear a lot of the Drums too) and the result is almost by definition something I want to listen to over and over again.

Drowners' Matt Hitt

Drowners’ Matt Hitt

So count me among the legion of new Drowners fans.The entire album comes in at just 30 minutes, with only one of the 12 songs at over 3 minutes (and that one at a whopping 3:13). Their music is catchy, fun to dance to, easy to sing along with and – if it’s your thing – I understand that lead singer / male model Matt Hitt (that’s him on the cover) isn’t that hard on the eyes. Fans of the Vaccines, the Drums, and obviously the Strokes – not to mention those jumping on the Skaters bandwagon – should definitely give Drowners a try. (Drowners and Skaters actually just concluded a UK tour together. I’m secretly hoping this post wins me back some of the fans I lost in my luke-warm review of Skaters’ record release show. Truth be told, I’m liking Manhattan more and more each time I listen to it.)

Download the fun single “Long Hair”, or watch the video for Long Hair below. You can also stream the album in full here.

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Drowners – Long Hair

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