Shook, the debut album from Dralms, is soaked with shimmering, emotionally hypnotic song-writing, and was probably the best album you didn’t hear last year.
Dralms is the project of Canadian based ex-singer-songwriter Christopher Smith, and it contains a darker twist in contrast to his solo material. If you are confused by the name, the band’s website has it covered, “Dralms is not so much a word as it is a moving and moody force to be felt deeply,” A grandiose declaration, but having listened, you may concur that he has made his point emphatically.
Shook isn’t perfect, but Smith wears his artistry on his ragged sleeve, and beneath the exploring and experimental electronic music is an angry, sardonic and scornful songwriter, “If my heart had its will, kill, kill, kill.”
The opening track ‘Usage’, is an immediate immersion into the band’s polished sound and Smith’s idiosyncratic soft, yet intimidating voice. He croons, “Even my lungs they will leave me, first chance that they get.” Smith’s lyrics are thought-provoking and masochistic, constantly challenging society and love. ‘Divisions of Labour’ is driven by a hypnotic bassline and sordid, political and socially focused lyrics.
Songs move seamlessly between moments of calm and clarity and then refined explosions of drama and fury. ‘Pillars and Pyre’ opens with a slow non-intimidating electronic groove, before Smith releases himself and his full falsetto voice, before returning swiftly to a soft and smooth diminuendo. ‘Crushed Pleats’ holds the same structure, but with a more imposing crescendo where Smith swoons, “You bat those lashes, with heart attacks and car crashes.” Throughout Shook, Smith juxtaposes sexual desire and deathly imagery. ‘Crushed Pleats’ concludes with an attacking melee of synth, bass and drums with Smith ironically singing, “Ain’t I a lucky boy!”
The album is sonically magnificent and the musicianship of Shaun Thomas Watt (drummer), Will Kendrick (keyboardist), Rob Tonroos (guitarist) and Peter Carruthers (bassist) is fantastic throughout. Shook also masters smoother, soulful and soothing songs, while not losing Smith’s scornful lyrics. ‘Shook’, the title track of the album, explores Smith’s exemplary lyricism without ever really igniting. The provocatively named ‘Gang of Pricks’ perhaps achieves the mellower side of Dralms more effectively, it plunges, then floats with glimmering drums and fluid electronic beats, while Smith ponders subject matters such as “choking,” “sacred blood” and “death squads” from above.
The fact there is such little information or footage of Dralms enhances the intrigue. The lyrics remain mysterious and left to the listener’s interpretation and their stark music videos are atmospheric, artistic and ever so slightly deranged. The video for ‘Crushed Pleats’ presents to us a women with a tangerine emerging from her mouth and the video for ‘Pillars and Pyre’ brings us a Celtic looking man smashing a set of drums in slow motion for the whole track.
The album is understandably not perfect, a couple of songs in the middle lose their way, ‘Objects of Affection’ never really leads anywhere, and ‘Wholly Present’ fails to reach the heights of ‘Shook’ or ‘Gang of Pricks’, but this is brave, accomplished and original work that you almost certainly haven’t heard yet. 4/5