It’s on my third listen to On Desire that I truly get to listen to the album. The first time was at their album release show – reviewed here – and the second was half-asleep on a red eye flight across the Atlantic. Because of this, by the time I was able to sit and just listen, I felt already somewhat acquainted with this album.
On Desire is Drowners’ sophomore album; the follow up to 2014’s self-titled debut that took them from the unknown to supporting bands such as Peace and playing festivals like Reading and Leeds within months. One possible criticism of Drowners’ debut is that it wouldn’t be a stretch to describe it as ‘samey’ – I loved the album, but if you weren’t such a fan, then you could easily find it repetitive. On Desire manages to move away from this to an extent – it’s still distinctively Drowners, but new elements have been added and there’s more of a contrast between the tracks.
‘Troublemaker’, the opening track, is ebullient and full of energy, drawing a parallel between this and the equally fast-paced ‘Ways To Phrase A Rejection’, the first song on their debut. It’s a strong start to the album. ‘Human Remains’, by contrast, is a love song with a slower pace and an almost ethereal vibe, with the use of a synth and Smiths-esque guitar. Whilst the guitar is no surprise – Drowners are often described as ‘trying to be The Smiths’ (and The Strokes, usually) – the use of synth is a new addition to their sound. It’s a welcome addition, as it gives their heavily guitar-based music a new dimension. With lyrics such as “what I mean to say in the kindest of ways / is all the time I’m just dreaming of you”, ‘Human Remains’ is romantic, dreamy and one of the best tracks – if not the best – on the album.
Other notable songs are ‘Someone Else is Getting In’, ‘Trust The Tension’ and ‘Don’t Be Like That’. ‘Someone Else Is Getting In’ does the thing – the thing where the track goes quiet, making you believe the song is over, before bursting back in with the chorus one more time and delivering it with more energy than ever before. ‘Trust The Tension’ is much more understated than other songs, with murmured vocals in the verses and a lower tone throughout, contrasted with faster paced guitar. It’s different to anything else they’ve done, and it’s a pleasing step away from their previous efforts. ‘Don’t Be Like That’ is the closing track. It uses the combination of synth and guitar that was present in ‘Human Remains’, and once again it works wonders – something especially apparent when the track gently fades and brings On Desire to a close.
‘Dreams Don’t Count’ feels like an anomaly. It’s a complete departure from any other music they’ve made and I’m still undecided about whether I actually like it or not. It’s soft and dream-like, but it also becomes a little dull and repetitive about halfway through. Nevertheless, tracks like this mean Drowners can’t be criticised for making music that sounds the same anymore – it’s a definite stand-out track, whether that be meant in a good or a bad way.
To me, the choice to use ‘Cruel Ways’ and ‘Pick Up The Pace’ as singles was a strange one. The latter is a decent track, albeit not the best, and the former is decidedly average compared to the rest of the album. When I first heard them in the time leading up to the release of On Desire, they failed to ignite any real excitement about this album. The truth, however, is that On Desire is proof of Drowners’ efforts to extend their sound and showcase their musical abilities that might’ve not shone through on their debut.By Lucy McLaughlin