October Drift – ‘I DON’T BELONG ANYWHERE’

By Ian Kenworthy

An album is more than just the music. It’s a series of choices. The aesthetic, the visuals, everything matters as much as the songs themselves. On all their releases, October Drift use the same type face and the same style of photo and it’s the same on their new album, ‘I Don’t Belong Anywhere’. They’re telling you they haven’t reinvented themselves, that you’ll know what to expect and when combined with the image of a downcast figure, a ghost of themselves superimposed, it’s an almost perfect choice.

As implied, they’re picking up directly where their 2020 ‘Naked’ EP left off, favouring a light rock sound that dips its toes into post-rock and isn’t afraid to flirt with a noisier edge. While there’s no shortage of bands with a similar sound – it’s not difficult to hear the influence of Editors… or maybe you can’t unhear the influence of Editors, especially on tracks like ‘Bleed’ – their music struggles to feel distinct but at the same time there’s undeniable skill on show, and this is clearest during the choruses. The band has a real knack for writing a solid, interesting chorus which they then use as a foundation to hammock the more effects-drenched, or even experimental, verses between. You can hear it as far back as their 2016 single ‘Cinnamon Girl’ but it’s a trait shared by all the songs here. So, in many ways, you can say there is only one trick in their bag but it’s surprisingly versatile. In practice, this means every song is propulsive and likeable, feeling different while fitting with the band’s larger body of work. Clearly, there’s concerted effort to refine their sound rather than broadening it.

The spectre of sadness and despair stalk the record, it’s in keeping with the same-but-darker album design and there’s a muted, downcast air to the songs. It’s a feature of Kiran Roy’s lyrics but is also enhanced by the post-rock guitar sound, making much of the record atmospheric. At its most effective when the guitars wash across ‘Insects’, you can easily imagine a swarm of locusts blotting out the sun, a great call-back to the overall theme.

As one of the album’s most interesting songs, ‘Ever After’ creates a dreary and funereal atmosphere and becomes full-on shoegaze during its outro. It’s easy to get swept along in the ambience so it’s surprisingly that the more mechanical structure of ‘Parasite’ works just as well. Each phrase is hammered home as the underlying chord changes, driving hard and when combined with the lead guitar screeches, it’s easily one of the band’s more immersive songs.

Kiran Roy has a worn, familiar-feeling singing voice that’s almost always pleasant and he has a good understanding of when to sing even if the what can be a little ungainly. Leaving space on ‘Parasite’ and allowing ‘Ever After’ to breathe shows he’s canny about the way the songs flow. So, ironically, it’s the most straightforward songs like the bright and charming ‘Lost Without You’ and ‘Waltzer’ that stand out. Repetition also suits many of the songs , with ‘Parasite’ and ‘I’m Lost Without You’ using it as a hook, and while the latter is a little too repetitive to be one of their strongest songs, it could easily work as a single.

In direct contrast, the weakest songs here are the most ambitious and that’s not just because they’re trying new things either. It’s more that they’re trying to squeeze new ideas into the established template. ‘Airborne Panic Attack’ pushes directly against your expectations of who the band are and what they can do, opening like a roaring chainsaw, only (as if realising its mistake) to hurriedly retreat to a more comfortable, quieter sound. It’s unusual, hesitant and ungainly, but it does fit with the song’s overall thesis. Similarly, the verses feature a stressful, tension-filled vocal, but while you could say it captures the tight-chested discomfort of incoming anxiety, that doesn’t stop it also being an awkward vocal pattern and ugly rhyme scheme, making it curiously out of step with the rest of the album. While we’re on the subject, Kiran Roy has a really interesting approach to lyrics in that while they’re often poetic, it can feel like he’s grappling with a topic rather than addressing it clearly, leading to a strange clumsiness to many of the verses. It’s an approach that creates a strong personal stamp, that the overall sound is a little lacking.

From its title, you get the feeling there’s anger and sadness bubbling beneath ‘Webcam Funerals’ and it’s a remarkably clever lyric, painting quite a picture with a simple statement. In many ways, Roy is adept at capturing emotions, whether it’s anxiety or repressed anger, and most songs feels like they’re tugging at your heart. In the same vein, ‘Old and Distant’ draws the album to a close with a swelling, almost cinematic outro, punctuated by a downbeat statement to hammer home its end. There’s a definite feel of rising out of depression, only to collide with reality and it’s the clearest indication of the record’s theme. In contrast, the weary warmth of ‘Feels Like I’m Home’ has an optimistic tone that hinges on nostalgia rather than being uplifting per se but this helps to keep the album from slipping too far into darkness.

Despite being called ‘I Don’t Belong Anywhere’, October Drift’s new record slots neatly into their catalogue. It feels timeworn and overly familiar but that’s part of its appeal. It wears its honesty on its sleeve but is quietly confident, easy to listen to and comforting. A worthwhile addition to their oeuvre.

IAN KENWORTHY

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