Looking a lot like a cell division photo from a biology textbook, the artwork for Draftday‘s When I Went Away EP doesn’t give much away at first glance. Coupling the title with the image, it could be taken as a sonic ‘story’ about separation, with each of the five songs forming a chapter. The Darwin-based band have delighted and surprised us with the release of their singles, and When I Went Away seems to offer even more surprising layers and character to Draftday. The band features Arran Barker (vocals), Lucas Sharp (guitar), Manolis Kamitsis (bass), Rowan Dally (drums) and Tom Ford (guitar).
EP opener “Mess I’ve Made” gives a slow motion nod to previous single “Soap” in the opening of its music video, perfectly marking the start of the When I Went Away story. Delightfully addictive, “Mess I’ve Made” toys with regret and guilt and makes those uncomfortable emotions almost joyful to be with. With retro sparkle, angst-coated singalong choruses, and delectable tones, the song feels like a classic despite its newness.
The sparse moments of “Mess I’ve Made” reinforce the (deserved) confidence that Draftday carry. There’s no new band apologeticness to get in the way of receiving their creative message without filter. With gently carved lyrics that show honesty and vulnerability, and not to mention the compulsion to join in on the “I’LL BE DAMNED IF YOU WERE ONE!” line, the song is perfection to my ears – all neatly tied up with the repetition of “Wish I was better then / Wish I was better when” at its end. Each element of the band shines here and I can’t fault it. The final seconds of the music video are the icing on top.
I deliberately haven’t taken detailed time with “Misspent” when it was released as a single, so that I could take time with it as part of the EP as a whole. Its rhythms are immediately gripping and Draftday seem to be taking us with them on a mental looping of questioning and wondering. Noisy riffs couple with occasional melodic and percussive accents, and the yearning to be heard and to find change is palpable to me. This yearning is interspersed with colder moments of sobering introspection.
The internal chaos is well captured by the chaotically edited and coloured music video. The leap into a stomping and driving section seems to have the situation meet a peak of realisation. Left and alone and seeking to break a cycle, the lines “What’s my worth if she can’t affirm it? / Filling the hole that she left me with” sum it up well. Despite the song’s colour and vibrance in its tone, through to its drifting end, there’s a defeated weight to it all too which is heartbreaking.
With a “what the?” surprise arrival of an acoustic track, the beautiful “Aster” is a sweet gift in the tracklisting of When I Went Away. As honest and vulnerable as the tracks before it, “Aster” is moving both in its lyricism and also its instrumentation and coupled vocals. Expanding fuller instrumentally, it’s easy to feel the heart-swelling outpour which seems to match accepting that the end of a connection has come. Every word is felt.
And I’d managed to not sink into a full-blown sob, but the bleeding of the guitar solo at the bridge as well as the following backing “Ahhh” vocals sealed the deal and set me off. I don’t even have the lyrics to the song, but I’m feeling all the things along with Draftday. Repeating myself from previous commentary, the track has no sign of new band coyness, and has a full-blown emotional heart beaming out to all that’ll receive it. It’s all so stunningly beautiful and impressive, let alone as a track featured on a debut EP.
“I’ll try to comfort myself,
but today, I don’t feel okay”
I took a break before embracing “A Perfect Light” due to the feels overdose, but the fourth song of the EP had me easily back into it. With its ethereal tones and harmonies, the beautiful track is encasing via the ears. “A Perfect Light” sounds like a spellbinding, enraptured love that’s been transformed into song.
Dreamy and sparkling, I’m unashamed to say that “A Perfect Light” has me realise that I’m virtually putty in Draftday’s musical hands. Lyrically simple, the repeated lines and moments of focus upon notes (such as the piano around the 1:50 mark) add to the mesmerising fantasy and romanticised feeling – which is only enhanced by the addition of saxophone. Floating away, every drum beat is a further tug at the heartstrings. And though it’s a more experimental bend to Draftday’s sound – feeling like a playful flow through samples and layers – it’s an absolute pleasure to be with.
Straight into it, “White Fences” offers the steady and slow burn of an ending. The beautiful delivery of “I drink like I don’t want to be here” hit with an empathic thud, as did the atmosphere of uncertainty, and grandeur of sound. Sounding like a homecoming, there’s some similarities to “Mess I’ve Made” that I’d prefer not to notice, but given there’s a connection of themes (and words), maybe this full circle of the EP’s bookends is a deliberate one?
Shrugging that off and continuing, a piano confession is sobering, revealing the disintegration of starry-eyed dreams, further unraveling the seams of my heart along with Draftday. The raw and searing “This is. All. There. Is.” with anguished yelling alongside it seems as broken as the connection in question, and seems fitting for the EP sharing a journey of a relationship.
Kept enthralled from end to end, When I Went Away is an incredible EP. It gets top marks from me with how all-in that Draftday prove to be, on all fronts. You can hear in each word uttered how there’s nothing left in the tank, and nothing held back in the instrumentation which veers from joyfully easy and coasting, to wild and bristling. It was a pleasure to be let in to these stories of distance and uncoupling, and the discoveries of the protagonist’s self in the process. I loved it, and I hope more ears find their way to this band soon.
Consistently brilliant, Draftday have shown their stuff in 'When I Went Away', in all its many facets. It had me move, it had me cry, it had me feel the frustration and defeat. Over the span of 20 minutes. What more could you want?!