Saturday, December 26, 2009

#7. 'Comin' fin by fin until the whole boat sinks'

The Drones "Shark Fin Blues"

Funny story; I completely forgot this was a single when I made the initial list. I was all set to have "The Minotaur" down around the high 30s when I took a look at hte band's discography and saw that their defining moment actually got the single release it deserved and I had completely missed it. Of course this was after I spent a long time during my joint Wait Long by the River/Havilah review pointing out exactly why this was the band's defining moment. Long story short, I blew all my material on it a month ago because I'm inobservant and didn't do enough research before finalizing the list.

But just to reiterate: Mother of fuck is the guitar playing on this song impossibly amazing. Gareth Liddiard and Dan Luscombe weave precisely yet loosely in and out of each other, throwing in as many grace notes, dive bombed harmonics and moments of actual riffery as they can in the 5 minutes the song runs - the single edit cuts out the arguably essential 'na-na-na' bridge but gives the song the impression of being nothing but guitar interplay for its whole length, not a bad trade-off all told - while Liddiard tells the story of a ship's crew being systematically picked off by merciless sharks after a wreck. It's the kind of rock song there were precious few of this decade, focusing not on repeated riffing but on a much looser form of playing that only serves to illuminate just how great The Drones' guitar duo is on a technical level and how well they can play off each other. Sure there are motifs that pop up repeatedly but the real fun of the song comes from what would be considered imperfections on a more polished cut. The lack of polish is The Drones' secret weapon, and here it finds the perfect middle ground between pre-2000 Modest Mouse, proto-punk and maritime folk music. The results are at times staggeringly brilliant, the moments where Luscombe and Liddiard let loose those never quite perfectly synchronized whammyed harmonics, the opening riff where Liddiard seems to be drunkenly stumbling into each note while never sounding like he means to play it any other way, and it makes it one of the best guitar songs of the decade.

All told the lyrics are secondary to the guitars, but Liddiard does spin a good yarn here. Not as good as the best moments on Havilah by any stretch, but an intimately observed tale of survival that never seems to put survival in the cards at all. It's not that there's no hope here, the protagonist seems to keep a rather gung-ho attitude towards fighting til he can't fight anymore, but just because there's hop doesn't mean that the narrative harbors any delusions about how the story ends. We cut out before the inevitable but the song doesn't leave us with any sort of good vibes, ending with the portent of the sharks 'coming fin by fun until the whole boat sinks' before the guitars careen through a seasick frenzy to send off the track. It always comes back to the guitars and that's perfectly OK by me.

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