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Sly & The Family Drone
Gentle Persuaders Patrick Clarke , April 25th, 2019 09:03

After a tumultuous year, the mighty Sly & The Family Drone return with Gentle Persuaders, their first album since 2017's collaboration with Dead Neanderthals. Listen to an exclusive first stream and read Patrick Clarke's review below

2018 was not exactly an easy year for Sly & The Family Drone. While touring with Bruxa Maria and Silent Front in France last January, their leader Matt Cargill was involved in a dramatic car accident that left him in hospital with a collapsed lung, a shattered humerus that required metal plates to be inserted, and his collarbone, ribs and a finger broken too. To make matters worse, the band’s gear was stolen from the trashed van. It caused a run of gigs and the release of a live recording from 2013, Live At Café Oto to be delayed until later in the year, the first new record from the band since their earth-shaking collaboration with Dead Neanderthals.

It would be tempting to label their new record Gentle Persuaders as something of a reset, a new beginning after a traumatic and depleting 2018, but in fact it represents consolidation and subsequent progression. It finds the band rallying every element that makes their brand of head-crushing noise so invigorating, and then refining it into something altogether more potent. They have always been something of a nebulous band, always offering invigorating chaos but never in the same manner as before, and this latest iteration is their most concentrated yet heard on record.

The few constants in the Family Drone’s history remain. There is still their wry sense of humour, for example, as seen in their incessant punning (final track ‘Jehovah’s Wetness’) and the name of the record itself – persuasive they are, gentle they certainly ain’t – and at its core this record is every ounce a sonic bludgeoning of the highest degree, as per. But what’s most enthralling about Gentle Persuaders is the way in which they harness their innate chaos, in particular the role that James Allsop’s baritone saxophone has come to play.

Take the first of the record’s four tracks, ‘Heavens Gate Dog Agility’, where rough, evil blasts of saxophone rumble and squall over simmering freeform percussion. The 14 minute behemoth of a track progresses in incremental steps, one blast of noise, then silence, then another, then silence. The noise builds on itself, but at a glacial pace. It ploughs onwards and onwards in lurching, lumbering strides, relentless and sickening, but before long you begin to notice that every time the drums return they’re a little more hectic, a little more ominous, and that blasts of grisly electronic distortion have begun to weave themselves among the fray. More and more flourishes are added as the sound grows and mutates into something ever more wicked and wild, but almost under your nose. The gap between attacks grows shorter and shorter until the track is just one merciless explosion; the drums have begun to stampede, the electronics are at their harshest, the saxophone is still chillingly consistent above it all, the whole thing is a glorious, abrasive detonation of sheer primal energy. But then, just as everything begins to tear around the edges and freewheel out of control, the noise is slowly heaved back downwards, its cacophonic decorations stripped one by one until just that simmering drum remains.

On the three remaining tracks on the record – relatively concise at a mere five, seven and eight minutes long respectively – it becomes even more apparent how wonderful the interplay between saxophone and drums really is on this record. On ‘New Free Spirits Falconry & Horsemanship Display’ the rhythm is more brutal and claustrophobic, so the saxophone duels it with leaping free jazz. On ‘Votive Offerings’ they work together to create a rushing psychedelic trip, and on ‘Jehovah’s Wetness’ the band bookend the record with another vast, mazing epic that plays with the lurching contrast between moments of space and moments of suffocation. Feral caterwauls of electronics underpin the whole thing, at once marrying the drums and saxophone into a cohesive whole and adding a freewheeling unpredictability. The end result is a stunning bludgeoning of a record, one that finds both Sly & The Family Drone’s technical abilities and their thirst for exploration at their peak. They remain every bit as chaotic, but never before have they harnessed their chaos with quite so much mastery.