On paper, a side project like DRINKS looks like a safe bet. On the one hand you’ve got Cate Le Bon, by now an established and critically acclaimed Welsh expat known for the unique blending of influences of both her native country, folk and European music that gives her an endearing and otherworldly sound, most recently in 2013 on Mug Museum. On the other hand is Tim Presley, longstanding figure in the US’s garage rock resurgence, who’s been at the forefront of that with White Fence since 2010 alongside collaborations with fellow luminary Ty Segall and even playing in The Fall at one point (although lets be honest, who hasn’t played in The Fall at this point?) Both Cate Le Bon and White Fence have already had members touring in each other’s bands and the two are well acquainted musically and as people. So when they announced that they were making an album together under the moniker of DRINKS, it seemed like a perfect match. Is it? Well, that really depends on how you feel about this kind of music.
The album starts off well enough. Vocal duties are shared pretty evenly throughout between Cate and Tim which helps to put it in its own place rather than Cate Le Bon featuring Tim Presley or vice versa. The fusion that comes from the two’s slightly different musical leanings works well enough tool. It’s not quite as folky as previous Cate Le Bon albums and it’s maybe not as heavy as previous White Fence work. From listening to Hermits On Holiday it’s clear that they both bounce off each other well and embrace the album as a true collaboration.
Psychedelic rock is the name of the game here, and actually feels pretty stripped down in comparison to their other work. No doubt there’s some fancy tricks going on in some of the songs, especially with the varied use of feedback and tones but aside from that it’s actually pretty raw sounding. DRINKS are certainly fans of repetition, and it’s the sort of music that they themselves might get into a trance from playing, or yourself on varying illegal substances (this reviewer was straight edge for the duration of this album’s length). Needless to say it’s very, very eccentric. Which is sadly kind of the problem here.
I like these sort of sounds and appreciate that they can be a little eclectic and out there, but often there’s a fine line between sounding unique and just becoming a little boring to listen to. Elements of music are seemingly just spliced at random, ignoring all convention and giving off more of a theme and feeling than its importance as a collection of songs. There’s riffs and lyrics that just repeat over and over and songs that just sort of go nowhere but will clock in towards at least 5 minutes. You get the impression that maybe Cate and Tim feel that while they can be eccentric in their usual personas, you can’t go completely off the wall with it. With DRINKS, there’s no pressure there to deliver anything like their previous music, so they can encourage each other to just play whatever the hell comes to mind.
It means the majority of the album ends up sounding like some demented jam session. Personally, it just doesn’t grip me and partly makes me feel like I’m missing something and I just ‘don’t get it’. To its credit sometime this experimentation for experimentation’s sake is tampered especially early on, but at its worst is a song like Tim, Do I Like That Dog towards the end of the album which is literally just a bass line repeating for 6 minutes with seemingly random drumming, guitar riffs and Cate asking that question over and over. Maybe to some there’s some demented sense of sound that appeals to them, but for me it’s mildly amusing but ultimately a throwaway waste of 6 minutes. It’s a shame, because the more conventional tracks (and incidentally the singles) like Laying Down Rock and the title track Hermits On Holiday are really good, but in-between song after song that sounds more like what happened after the recording tapes were left running they just get lost.
For all my complaints though, there was always an element before listening to Hermits On Holiday that I knew what I was getting into. Both of them belong to a subsection of the music world that loves the weird and unconventional and working together was only going to encourage each of them to go even weirder sounding that they might have in the past and abandon all convention in the sense of just making what they feel is right. There’s certainly no doubting their talents and Hermits On Holiday wouldn’t put me off either in the future. It’s just for me subjectively, if there’s a fine line for this weird meshing of Folk/Psychadelia/Krautrock where it’s still relatively listenable and conventional to a majority than Hermits On Holiday walks straight off the plank into a sea of a certain subsection of music listeners who for them will love what is more of an art piece than an album. I can’t exactly criticise Hermits On Holiday for its sheer experimentation as breaking convention is more appealing than sounding formulaic but for me as an album it’s an interesting one-time listen and unfortunately nothing more.