Drahla- angeltape (Album Review)

April 2, 2024


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Drahla’s 2019 full length Useless Coordinates showcased a band rooted in art rock and post punk but with a flair for experimentation, as they tended to flip the script once a particular dark melody or bass line had taken hold.  A lot has happened in the five years since that album, and the new lineup of the Leeds, UK based band has returned with a bolder sound that is even more loud and abrasive while still offering plenty of catchy moments.  Angeltape finds the right balance between darker brooding basslines, drearier yet entrancing melodies, and noisy freakouts that give everything an off kilter feel.  Whether you enjoy the jaggedness of 90s noise rock, post punk, or anything in between, Drahla’s latest provides plenty to both hook you upfront and keep you coming back to discover additional details.

What is immediately noticeable from opener “Under the Glass” is the more driving rhythmic approach and shift towards a fuller sound.  From the initial burst of the saxophone to the icy guitar and keyboard melodies that come in after a minute or so, Drahla has slicker sounding production values on angeltape that pulls from a lot of 80s influences without coming off as dated.  While some of the hooks may seem a bit straightforward initially, there are some abrupt transitions where the guitar and bass explore some off-balance almost no wave ideas and the saxophone seems to reappear without warning.  This is a running theme throughout the album, as just as you start to settle into a particularly danceable drum and bass rhythm or get drawn in by the catchiness of the post punk guitar work Drahla throws in something different.  “Second Rhythm” ups the volume significantly, with the guitars going for angular and abrasive riffs that sound close to 90s AmRep noise rock, while “Lipsync” has keyboard work that’s a bit more industrial.  The keyboards on “Talking Radiance” also sound like they could’ve been ripped right out of Killing Joke’s Brighter Than a Thousand Suns, but everything has been twisted and repurposed into something different.  Drahla often feels hard to categorize, but the subtle balance between the noisy outbursts and haunting melodies has kept me coming back.  Sometimes it comes across like 1985 or 1986 era Killing Joke with some Devo added in for good measure, while other moments remind me of the weirdness of Pere Ubu.  Admittedly having two instrumental tracks back-to-back at the end did hurt the momentum of the second half a bit, but this is a minor flaw for an otherwise engaging effort.

There is plenty to the instrumental work that will grab listeners the first time through, but what continues to give Drahla a unique feel is the vocal work of Luciel Brown.  Brown goes for a style that’s somewhere in between singing and spoken word, and the pace at which each word is delivered seems to move seamlessly in and out of the twisting and turning rhythms the rest of the band is laying down.  It’s an interesting approach that makes each verse stand out a bit more compared to other post punk adjacent artists, and the tone comes through as both reflective and powerful in equal capacity.  A song like “Second Rhythm” is a great example of what Drahla is capable of, as the initial verses come in rapid fire in between the lurching guitar and bass, making you stop and really pay attention.   This approach isn’t likely to be for everyone, but if you enjoy no wave or the more experimental sides of post punk then you’re in good company with angeltape.

Angeltape is noticeably darker and noisier than its predecessor, but the more upbeat tempos and sudden shifts also give it a playful feel when it comes to the instrumentation.  Colder gothic and post punk melodies collide with abrasive noise rock and everything in between, making for an album that’s filled with just as many hooks as it is unexpected and strange moments.  It can be hard for artists trying to capture that same experimentation of earlier post punk and art rock to not just fall too close to their inspirations, and while Drahla does remind me of several different bands they continue to tread their own path.  It’s exciting to hear just how much they’ve transformed in five years, and I expect to have this one on repeat for some time.  Angeltape is available from Captured Tracks.

-Review by Chris Dahlberg