Record Review: Drahla’s “Useless Coordinates”

Utter certain words in a sequence, and the world deems you either a prophet or a madman. Since 2015, the stylish fever dreams of Leeds-based trio Drahla—conveyed through scattered singles, cryptic sleeve covers, and music videos—read like fragments of a codex that could’ve been the work of either. Yet ponderous bass lines, guitars that jar nerves like razors and the occasional sax squall plant Drahla firmly in the art-damaged post-punk crowd, where a cool exterior and esoteric texts can shield the artist from any commitment to prophecy. And ergo, you don’t have to be a lunatic or a seer to sing baffling non-sequiturs, as Drahla does on its debut LP. You just need an alluring aura, a working knowledge of occult rituals,and enough chutzpah to convince everyone that your existential ennui equates to truth.

On the surface, singer/guitarist Luciel Brown, bassist Rob Riggs and drummer Mike Ainsley seem like Artists displaced from space and time. As Brown teases out such lines as “Castle in the air has fallen/Creation is invalid” or “Ancient Egypt in the palm of my hand” to her own serrated riffs, mundane life and ordinary people fade into tiny dots within Big Picture Concepts. Even with Drahla’s opaque lyrics, though, those dusty dialogues from academia aren’t too hard to work out—as on the rather Siouxsie-like “Stimulus For Living,” which boils down existence to a regular pattern of stimuli (fast food, sunsets, etc.) to maintain contentment. Meanwhile, “Invisible Sex” addresses our modern-day obsession with fabricated personas (both online and off) that morph into another reality in the public eye: “A profile to assign to/A glorious reflection to elevate my DNA/Visual exterior for opinion/Visual exterior for submission.” 

Spend more time with Useless Coordinates, though, and you’ll find a self-fulfilling prophecy. The locked-door riddles serve as the only landmarks in the labyrinth, where tortuous corridors of sax and guitar blend into one discordant tangle. No one in Drahla will guide you through this maze, either; Brown and her acquaintances seem to place themselves above the clamor, save for the jagged bridge on the Sonic Youth-esque “Twelve Divisions Of The Day.” Even here, though, lazily drawn line “Holy water, shine on me” sounds like nothing less than a taunt, a mockery of spirit as it withers within secular rituals: “Waking up, body clock/An imitation, self-regard.” 

Are these mysteries worth spelunking for? Perhaps, but dive deep enough into Drahla’s musings, and the most horrible secret emerges like a slug: There are no stairways to the stairs, no curses in the pyramids, no aura in the moonlight. Useless Coordinates has either exposed enigma as the forgery of aged signifiers, or Drahla has reduced the chaos of the unexplained to well-tread paths on a map. The initiate can only guess; the adept will surely know. But both will keep searching anyway.

—Lee Adcock