Nantes, as much as I can’t pronounce their name (I believe it’s something like ‘Nahnce’), are a bit of a mystery. The band, led by Sydneysider David Rogers, is the kind of local proposition I probably should know about. And yet, there is something inherently unknowable about the music this band, from the Northern suburbs of our hometown, is releasing. ‘Drones’ is not the first of their songs to pique my interest. Nor is it their most recent. That honour goes to the distinctly uncomfortable ‘‘. But it is the song that, even five months down the track and on the other side of the globe, continues to resonate. Brother J mentioned earlier in the week that he thought The Killers might be a band with staying power, one that might stick around for when our generation takes to the classic hits airwaves. In the opening chords of ‘Drones’, I can hear some of the guitar- and keys-heavy sentiment that made early Killers (not buying their more contemporary incarnation) such a riveting listen. But then the song doesn’t take the high-camp, melodramatic route that the Brandon Flowersy introduction hints that it might and the comparisons stop. And then they start again.
The most obvious parallel to draw is to Paul Banks‘ performance as frontman for Interpol. While Rogers doesn’t sound quite as tortured or deeply serious about everything as Banks does (or did, the band has been on hiatus since 2011 as members pursue personal projects) on Interpol’s records, there is a certain intensity to his baritone that harks back to the man who so frequently made ‘The O.C.’ deliciously moody. But beyond Interpol there are also lines to be drawn to the post-punk foundations laid by bands like Joy Division and The Cure. Comparisons, though, tend to detract from the ultimate experience. Surely the young Australian band has been influenced by those who have come before (the band publicly recognises the impact of Joy Division, Radiohead and The Strokes on their craft) but they also take these influences and shape them into something new, impressively different and unexpected. There are whiffs of all of the aforementioned bands punctuating ‘Drones’ but its true scent is, overwhelmingly, of Nantes. In that respect, the band has already won a significant battle in subtly incorporating myriad years of musical history into their sound and simultaneously maintaining their own brand.
‘Drones’ is a really beautiful track because it is so unpredictable, such a successful melange of post-punk and alternative rock and neo-folk (Edward Sharpe eat your heart out over that rousing chorus at 2’55″), and yet so fulfilling as a listen. Just as it doesn’t obviously point to its wide spectrum of musical ancestry where it could, ‘Drones’ doesn’t go off the rails under the weight of the ideas of those forbears, instead confidently moving between more contemplative verses and bolder, if still reserved, choruses. Even that kumbaya moment as the song peters out to its diffused, seemingly galactic endpoint sounds like a natural progression more than it does forced. There is no kitsch factor, no populist pandering with Nantes. There are moments when you feel like Rogers’ voice should leave the comfort of its baritone home to climb higher, less familiar peaks but I now realise that part of the charm of this song – and of many of Nantes’ three other tracks released to date – is in their nonchalance. It’s not a carefree character which typifies the band but a calm, pensive quality that infuses their work. ‘Drones’ borrows without being derivative, is sincere without being mawkish and soars without ever leaving the ground. The mystery of Nantes continues…
Nantes – Drones