Allow me to preface this review by saying that Hermits On Holiday, the debut LP from experimental psych duo DRINKS, is a profoundly weird album. Being unfamiliar with the previous work of either member (Cate Le Bon and Tim Presley), I didn't really have any idea what I was getting myself into when I first sat down with it—and the opening track, "Laying Down The Rock," doesn't exactly do a great job of preparing you for the cacophonous madness to follow.
"Focus On The Street" is the first sign that things may be heading in a strange direction. Where the opener was a relatively straightforward '70s-era psych jam, the second track quickly breaks down into something resembling no-wave nihilism, with Presley's prosaic vocals sounding like a cross between Ian Curtis and Thurston Moore. And while a bit jarring at first, this new sound started to grow on me almost immediately.
Part of the reason is that, unlike a lot of other avant-whatever bands, DRINKS seem to take a great deal of joy in their manic experimentation. Rather than engaging self-serious, pseudo-academic plodding, the duo doesn't shy away from lightening the mood a bit with comical interludes like "Tim, Do I Like That Dog" (in which Le Bon repeats the titular question over nearly seven minutes of bizarrely aimless guitars). It's a bit of a wink and a nudge to the listener, reassuring you that they know exactly what they're up to.
And none of this is to say that Hermits On Holiday isn't fun to listen to. All self-deprecation aside, the title track is a catchy, minimalist jam that puts Le Bon's delicate vocals beautifully front-and-center, and songs like "Spilt The Beans" and "Cannon Mouth" have a certain irresistible groove that will keep you coming back for repeat listens. DRINKS may be unapologetically deconstructing rock, but they still know how to write a great song.
In short, this record takes some getting used to. It's not immediately apparent on a first listen what the appeal might be, and at times it can certainly feel like work. But if you give it a chance (and at least two plays through), that work pays off and reveals an album that is simultaneously cerebral and carefree, abrasive and subtle, and just generally a fantastic addition to the pantheon of experimental rock.