I don’t trust anyone that can’t listen to any form of instrumental music, or at the very least, won’t even attempt to on the mere assumption that the lack of vocals will cause it to be “boring” or “uninteresting.” I’ve met many people like this in my day, and unfortunately, it is extremely difficult to break down that wall established by contemporary popular music. People understand that music, for most of its existence in human hands, has been instrumental, or not vocally focused, right? And sure, metal and harsher forms of guitar driven music might not be for everyone, but with the innumerable amount of instrumental hip-hop creators, ambient artists, drone doomers, classical composers, or anyone else, there is instrumental music for everyone out there; people just need to seek it out.
Sometimes, however, that music will seek you out. Drongo is a brand new Norwegian group that decided to send along their debut for us to review. I’d like to first take the opportunity to thank the octet (yes, these experimental rock groups keep getting bigger and bolder) for sending along their music for us to review. While a substantial ego booster, it also drove my listening this week, with my primary focus lying on this release. But before jumping into the music, I’d like to extend the offer to send along music to any artists that wish to showcase their group on a larger platform, as we love listening to new music here as much as we do talking about it.
Jumping into the experimental enigma that is 1, we discover that there is a lot to talk about. Spread across six tracks, each of varying tempos, styles and instrumental inclusions, the band (comprising of 2 guitars, bass, drums, additional percussion and 3 synthesizers) manages to create a near-perfect synchronization of the octet’s sounds. Without spilling too many beans, the highlight of this record is the group’s seamless unity as a songwriting force. Each instrument weaves wonderfully into one another, creating a changing sonic landscape that continues to surprise and amaze.
“Slange” is a great example of what this record has to offer. Including a Norwegian folk acapella performance and a harsh noise solo back to back, this track has multiple angular melodies and a rock-solid rhythmic foundation. As catchy as it is frantic, the ten minute track bounces from psychedelic to jazz to noise rock in a matter of moments. It easily makes one of the most fun listening experiences I’ve had yet this year, and shows how this brand of wild versatility is present throughout this entire record, and continues to impress throughout its 53-minute runtime.
“Katten” is a cut that blends electronic ambience with ethereal post-rock to create a lengthy, ominous, and powerful build into a reprise of its almost dream-poppy opening. Starting with a baseline of instrumentation that permeates the entire 13-minute cut, we get a really good glimpse of the songwriting style that Drongo hinges on; that of building layers upon layers of sound until the track either explodes or changes completely. Take the next song, “Hester,” for example. Its extremely off-kilter guitar lead acts entirely against the bouncy drum part, creating a polyrhythmic dissonance that is wildly unique. Through winding guitar solos and blaring, siren-like electronics, the track evolves from its wonky beginnings into an atmospheric and jazzy banger.
The greatness doesn’t stop here, however, as the middle cuts on this record are stunning. While we already mentioned “Slange,” “Neshorn” is easily the heaviest of cuts here, with a quiet yet abrasive synth line, and an increasingly intense closed hi-hat part to kick out the first couple of minutes. This track erupts in the middle of its nine minute runtime, welcoming a noisy and shrill experimental guitar solo with what sounds like a blaring saxophone line (which is most likely another synth). The rock instrumentation takes over the second half, and charges through a bass-driven solo section where the guitars dance airily over the thumping low-end. Eventually returning to the refrain established in the middle of the cut, the slowed-down riff dissolves into ambient electronics and walls of feedback again, creating one of the most aurally interesting cuts of the year.
“Pangolin” and the self-titled closer, “Drongo,” finish up the record, and certainly do a worthy job of it. While the transition from “Slange” into the following cut is somewhat jarring and a little bit sloppy, “Pangolin” is another electronic-driven banger, establishing a repetitive earworm within the first few minutes. This methodically builds with the additions of a more intensive drum and droning guitar part to a nice, but somewhat short conclusion. “Drongo” is a love-letter to King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard, with its psychedelic guitar tone kicking off the tame krautrock jam which gradually builds into an aural cacophony led by sweeping melodic lines. After dropping in decibel level briefly, a noise rock solo section leads us back into the the build we established earlier, and a thunderous drum solo brings us back into the wonderful noise established earlier in the track, this time exploring another end of the mix with soaring lead lines. It ends abruptly, but appropriately, perfectly wrapping up the journey we’ve just been on.
1 isn’t perfect, but it’s damn good. From a seemingly amateur group, I did not expect such cohesive songwriting and undeniably addictive performances. Since beginning to listen to this record, I haven’t been able to put it down, and that should give some substantial credit to these guys. Each instrument, as noted before, is entirely realized; while the classic rock instruments certainly take the forefront of the master, each of the eight instruments present gets to show what it’s made of and provide another interesting layer onto the craziness on display. Drongo have made a statement with this debut, and I can only imagine that this band would be incredible to see live. While I’m not very versed in the vein of krautrock, I can pick out a great album when I hear it, and I’m glad to say that this Norwegian eight-piece has certainly impressed with their unique brand of, as they put it, ‘super disco’. Support this underground artist, and vibe to the instrumental rabbit holes that each one of the tracks takes you on.
Final Verdict: I wish my Norwegian was better so I could understand the only vocals on this record
Favorite Tracks: “Slange,” “Neshorn,” “Hester”
FFO: King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard, Black Country, New Road, Can
1 releases on April 16th. You can listen to “Hester,” “Katten,” and “Drongo” now on all major streaming services!