Courtesy of Donella Drive
Donella Drive's new EP, Ozell, drops on April 30.
Losing a singer, especially one with a distinctive voice, can be a crippling blow for a rock band. As much as every instrumentalist likes to think they’re singular in their approach, truth is it’s damn hard to match the idiosyncrasies of the human voice.
That said, San Antonio’s Donella Drive hasn’t just survived the late 2016 departure of longtime vocalist Gabriella Macias; it’s excelled since then.
Stripped down to a power trio format with guitarist Aidan Escalante handling vocal duties, the band dropped a late 2019 EP called Bloomer
that showed off varied dynamics and a leap forward in songcraft.
Later this week, Donella Drive will release Ozell
, its second EP with the reconfigured lineup. And the five-tune release may well outshine its predecessor.
The new EP shows that the band’s chief strength is its ability to take a varied musical approach without shaving the hard edges from its sound. The material’s sonic girth reveals the influence of metal outfits such as Mastodon, but there’s also a willingness to throw musical curveballs that draw from underground stalwarts like At the Drive-In and the Jesus Lizard.
’s biggest surprise may be Donella Drive’s willingness to pay off listeners with big choruses that deliver equally big hooks. When that happens, though, they’re employed with enough songwriting restraint that they don’t sound forced or overwrought.
Part of that expanded sense of melody likely comes down to guitarist Escalante’s understanding that for the band to function as a three-piece he needed to become a frontman. As opposed to a guitar player who sorta, kinda tries to carry a tune.
After it was clear he was taking over singing duties, Escalante began taking voice lessons twice a week — and from two different instructors, no less.
The results are clear on Ozell
’s title track and on the opening number “Distress Signals,” where his soaring vocals ride high in the mix.
Bassist Andrew Salazar and drummer Steven Rodriguez lock in for tight interplay that allows Escalante to layer melodic guitar lines or jazzy chord voicings over the top. Sometimes the approach is reminiscent of the aforementioned Jesus Lizard, while other times, Gojira springs to mind.
That sonic brew is especially intoxicating on “Monochrome Dream,” a track that evokes both psych and dub during its echo-heavy verses before it rides a thick, doomy riff into one of the hookiest choruses on the album. And that’s all before it drops into a bridge that veers between off-kilter funk and prog. No pigeonholes here.
Ozell will be available April 30 for download at donelladrive.bandcamp.com or wherever folks go for their DD fix.
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