by Emmet Penney (@ChknNugtDeepSt8)
It’s no secret Americans have, since the tail end of the Cold War, mounted a withering retreat from “causes” and commitments into the realm of the self. We have no story of the future, save for the recent explosion of climate catastrophe pessimism. Privatization and the Internet of Things have deleted from our lives much of the social field while stretching the invisible tentacles of digital power into our everyday lives. Our main line of psychic defense shapes itself into an extreme self-concern. It is how we steward our “minimal selves.” What kind of art can a deteriorating culture/decrepit society produce?
Chicago two-piece, Drool, answer with a frightening and powerful new album, DROOL II, out from Born Yesterday this month. Ben Leach (vocals/drums) and Hersh D. Chabra (vocals/guitar) have stripped down their sound as if to reflect back to us our current predicament. The album focuses on themes of “introspection, authority, dehumanization, and bigotry” from the left, as Born Yesterday’s press release says. Drool expresses these themes through coldness, outburst, and repetition.
Drool gifts tracks like “Sky” with an emotionally flat, yet often aggressive delivery. It’s hard not to hear the pale ghost of Joy Division’s Ian Curtis being summoned, but whereas Curtis “had a depressive’s eerie composure, an infinite resignation” as Mark Fisher wrote, Drool brings their own inflections and insights. Their tone is so matter-of-fact that even confession feels like confrontation: “I respect the power of suggestion / tell me exactly what in clear language / I'm impressionable to a fault / use this to your benefit.” It’s so bald, so abject it upsets. When I listen to it, I hear an exhaustion I know I feel an am afraid to face. Where is this “You” to whom the song is addressed? The answer might very well be “everywhere.” Thus, as Drool sings, it’s impossible to locate yourself in any “grand scheme”; though it is grand--much bigger than you, at least--and most definitely a scheme.
On the other hand, Drool also brings something more explosive to the table. On “Terminal,” it opens with Drool howling “Have you come to make it better? / You’ve got to make it better.” Part interrogation, part plea. It sounds like a musical take on the Voight-Kampf Test from Bladerunner, a drawn-out interview meant to expose androids. Why aren’t you making it better? Why are you here? Don’t you understand what you have to do? The answer, “And I’m just saying stuff like ‘yeah, whatever man’ / and so on and so on” evokes reflexive impotence. Certainly things are better; certainly, you should do more. But can you? Can you really?
The musical atmosphere around these lyrics works well: Leach’s punchy drumming welds seamlessly to Chabra’s nimble, spidery guitar work. The band relies on repetition to create tension. Obviously, most music involves some kind of pattering, but Drool, in “Paint” and “Shoes,” for example, rely on uniformity in the repetition of musical phrases to force the listener into a corner. Their stripped-to-the-bones sound makes certain songs feel inescapable. Short fiction writer Charles D’Ambrosio argues that the primary purpose of the short story is to increase tension over time. If you think you’re supposed to hit some kind of climax, you’ll have a lot of stories that end in bar-fights. I wager that Drool makes a similar wager and succeeds. This record gasps for air, for relief. And it promises neither.