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REVIEW: Drahla – ‘Useless Coordinates’ (Captured Tracks)


In a sentence:

In the spirit of all the best post-punk, Drahla’s long-awaited debut album ‘Useless Coordinates’ suggests limitless possibility.

Mystique and intrigue are qualities that have vanished, to all intents and purposes, in the music industry as it exists in 2019. In the context of the non-stop, everything-all-the-time clamour of the digital world and the shortened attention spans that’s caused, you can basically find out anything about any artist at any time. Which makes British art-rock / post-punk three-piece Drahla such an unusual prospect, as it’s comparatively hard to find out much about them. Their Facebook and Instagram accounts are functional at best, they aren’t on Twitter at all, they have no Wikipedia page, and the few interviews they’ve done are none too revealing, suggesting a passionate but canny band who know exactly what they’re doing. Their music is there to be heard, but not a hell of a lot else. The practical upshot, intended or not, is that Drahla have retained a touch of mystique about their image, and this is something that has played in their favour during the long, three-year wait for their debut album, Useless Coordinates. Their slate is comparatively blank in terms of expectations, and the trio use it to their advantage.

While they may hail from Leeds, their sound has more in common with the spirit of American indie, particularly the art-rock scenes of New York and the underground of the Pacific North-West than any British bands, as possibly reflected by their decision to sign with NY-based indie Captured Tracks. Just like their previously released singles and 2017’s excoriating Third Article EP, Drahla manipulate their influences – namely Wire, early Sonic Youth and the murkier end of grunge – into a fluid and intelligent 29-minute experience.

On top of Luciel Brown’s arresting presence as a frontwoman, her detached drawl reminiscent of that of Kim Gordon and which amplifies her already vivid lyricism, and the wiry but tough rhythms laid down by Rob Riggs on bass and Mike Ainsley on drums, the really notable element of Useless Coordinates is the decision to add saxophonist Chris Duffin (of XAM Duo) as an honorary fourth member of Drahla as a recording unit, having utilized him during live shows over the last year. His psych-jazz blasts are a brilliant disruptive force, and a valuable addition to the dissonant guitars, high-strung bass and Brown’s sung-spoken lyrics, and as a result Useless Coordinates teems with ideas in a way that suggest limitless possibility – something that very few nominally ‘post-punk’ debuts have done in recent memory.

Music video for ‘Pyramid Estate’

Thematically, Drahla touch on a number of hot topics, from climate catastrophe to gender self-identification, but don’t adopt a hectoring tone in doing so that would render it off-putting, choosing to comment in a cryptic, sideways fashion. The mid-album hinge of ‘React/Revolt’ sees Brown mutter ghoulish non-sequiturs that together paint a burnt-out picture of decaying society – Wool on woman / Flies on food / Capitalise / Status signs / Sovereign sector / Burn the oil” – over railing, electrifying goth-punk. That follows an opening couple of sparse instrumental minutes, during which Duffin’s intrepid sax is the star.

That centrepiece is surrounded by nine tracks of nervy, jagged punk rhythms and intelligent arrangements. Opener ‘Gilded Cloud’ is a Sonic Youth-esque teenage riot of stop-star guitars, slashed chords and feedback; the cynical indie-pop of lead single ‘Stimulus For Living’ is a dark thrill; the high-strung ‘Serotonin Level’ cedes to an ambient outro, showing the band’s ability to build and release tension in a controlled manner, rather than at manic, break-neck pace. The brief duo of ‘Pyramid Estate’ and ‘Primitive Rhythm’ reveal their Wire influences very clearly. Last year’s single ‘Twelve Divisions Of The Day’ is included, its ‘oi!’ punk-meets-Gang Of Four combination fitting in perfectly with the aesthetics of Useless Coordinates, while closing track ‘Invisible Sex’ takes the opportunity to ease the pressure of the album’s overall sense of claustrophobia and unclutter the arrangement.

Music video for ‘Stimulus For Living’

While Useless Coordinates doesn’t reinvent the wheel, it does represent a notable exception to the general lack of imagination and talent that’s deflated the vast majority of the British guitar scene over the last decade or so. Drahla have successfully translated all their promise, their alluring yet inscrutable previous showings on record and in the live arena, into an immensely satisfying debut album of complex but catchy post-punk. (8/10) (Ed Biggs)

Listen to Useless Coordinates by Drahla here via Spotify, and tell us what you think below!

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