Release Date: Sep 13, 2011
Record label: French Kiss
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Alternative Pop/Rock
The Drums’ musical formula is fairly straightforward and yet artfully delivered: surf-tinged new-wave revival dosed with gobs of lush reverb, paired with the suburban, middle-class pathos of Johnathan Pierce, the band’s lanky, somewhat unpredictable, and subtlely androgynous leadman, who lyricizes like Robert Smith but looks and sounds like Bernard Sumner. Both names are apt comparisons, as the Brooklynites’ 2010 self-titled debut played much like a composite of the Cure’s romanticism and New Order’s syncopated post-punk, presenting handclapping, finger-snapping pop with just a tinge of synthy embellishments and a lion’s share of adolescent angst. Decked out in a lovably dorky Buddy Holly aesthetic, the Drums’ entrance was ironic indie chic personified.
Like any good TNT show, the Drums know drama. At the tail end of 2010, guitarist Adam Kessler left the band under circumstances that were clearly less than amicable; the band's website stated that the remaining members were "devastated" and were "keeping to themselves and friends at this time." Two weeks later, lead singer Jonathan Pierce told NME that the band had composed "the best song we've ever written" the day after Kessler's departure. It was only a few months' time before Pierce was referring to Kessler's departure as a "blessing in disguise" in UK newspaper The Independent: "We don't know what he's doing or anything.
I gotta say the Drums’ debut was a bit of a lifesaver. Its mix of infectious melody, heartfelt wonder, childlike loneliness, witty lyricisms, and naïve romance saw me through many a mess o’ blues. On first listen Portamento, in all honesty, felt comparatively flat, a frantic panic of ideas, sounds and moods. Many hours on the psychiatrist’s couch and several listens later though it started to click, choruses bloomed, toes were tapped, hearts melted and—yay!—new saviours emerged from the fog.
The sleeve of [a]The Drums[/a]’ second album is a family photo of a young Jonathan Pierce standing next to a middle-aged woman, probably his gran. His eyes are photoshopped red, and above his head (which sports the exact same haircut he has today), a wall-mounted crucifix hangs ominously. He may as well have scribbled “[i]I’ve got issues[/i]” across his face.
Ever since the success of their first single “Let’s Go Surfing,” the Drums have spent equal amounts of time tracing that song’s sound and distancing themselves from it. They continue to do so on Portamento, beginning their second album with a pair of jaunty kiss-offs to religion and exes. “Book of Revelation” is the album’s first and catchiest track, offering a decidedly secular take on living for the moment; “Days,” meanwhile, follows in the footsteps of the band’s idol Morrissey with lyrics that are so archly self-pitying that they become funny.
Adulthood's sobering realities cast a sombre cloud over sunny-day soundtrackers the Drums' enjoyable sophomore effort, which finds the NYC trio tempering their effusive pop hooks and urgent 80s indie-style riffs with increasingly introspective songwriting - a well-worn pop formula that they nail. Singer Johnny Pierce's angst is believable, though he sounds best when holding back a bit, as on the warmly harmonious What You Were, the falsetto-inflected Money and the gently melodic How It Ended. Things get awkward on the more straight-up electronic moments: Searching For Heaven's swirling analog synths compete too hard with its whiny melody, for example.
Having exploded on the scene at the tail end of 2009 amidst a substantial wave of hype and publicity, it was never going to be easy for The Drums to sustain the initial promise displayed on the Summertime EP, still their pièce de résistance as far as these ears are concerned. While the haters have had something of a field day ever since - accusations of industry manufacturing being one thing their detractors have thrown at them - it's still fair to say The Drums are a prolific bunch. Having only released their self-titled debut in June of last year, they've followed it up in little over 12 months.
At first glance, there is a laughably deadpan irony about The Drums, particularly in Jonathan Pierce’s schizophrenic stage persona. Stumbling between yelps of woe-is-me agony and a wide-eyed “I don’t give a shit about your indie hype” stare, one is unsure of whether Jonathan Pierce is ecstatically living up to his daydreams of fronting The Smiths or completely apathetic with the success The Drums have gained. Nevertheless, The Drums made quite a splash a little over a year ago with the release of their self-titled debut.
The Drums arrived last year with a blare of hype and a whistled solo on their hard-to-resist single "Let's Go Surfing" that was second only to Peter Bjorn and John's "Young Folks" in terms of insidiousness. It looks as though this second album, coming so soon after their debut, is an attempt to rush out more material before the backlash turns to indifference. They've retained the late-80s-Mancunian-indie-plus-surf-pop formula, and though that produced some sparkling tunes first time round, now things sound somewhat thin: each lovelorn and drear ditty seems to blend into the next.
The glums, more like: for all their perky bass lines and dreamy reverb, here's a band in desperate need of a good cheering up. With the Drums having lost a guitarist and almost split up, it's not surprising Portamento is driven by gloomy lyrics. What is surprising is that so little has changed despite the upheaval. Like last year's debut, this employs repetition and deliberate naivety, but it's starting to sound disingenuous, perhaps because of a strong sense of joylessness and duty.
A warning to all potential significant others: Break the Drums’ singer Jonathan Pierce’s heart, and risk an icy shower of emotion written into song in your honor. Although the Brooklyn indie rockers never name names, their energetic, three-minute pop structures don’t hold back on conveying Pierce’s ever-dampening mood. What were surf-guitar tropes, Phil Spector-inspired vamping and songs about breakups (“It Will All End In Tears” on the group’s self-titled debut) are now songs about breakups (“In The Cold”) held together with calculated modular synthesizer melodies.
You'd be forgiven for expecting the second album from The Drums to be a religious experience. Portamento's cover art, a childhood snap of singer and lead songwriter Jonathan Pierce, shows the youngster with devilishly bad case of camera red-eye standing in front of some fairly unpleasant green wallpaper as a smiling older woman looks on; a crucifix hangs behind Pierce on the wall, positioned over his head like the Sword of Damocles. And the first track is called 'Book of Revelation'.
Mostly more of the same from a New York band in need of their Pet Sounds moment. Martin Aston 2011 The Drums have got simplicity down to a fine art. When vocalist Jonathan Pierce and guitarist Jacob Graham first formed a band, they named it Goat Explosion. After temporarily going separate ways – Pierce fronted Elkland and Graham formed Horse Shoes – their 2006 reunion dropped the animal imagery for a name so effortlessly and obviously brilliant that you couldn’t believe nobody had beaten them to it.