Mostly more of the same from a New York band in need of their Pet Sounds moment.
Martin Aston 2011-08-26
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. Suitably attired, The Drums’ newly minted blend of surf-rock and indie pop (most obviously Mancunian at heart, from The Smiths to Peter Hook basslines, with a dash of Orange Juice) was as canny as it was minimal and uncomplicated. Song titles from their self-titled debut, from Let’s Go Surfing to Best Friends, were never likely to mask socio-political treatises. As The Vaccines know, sometimes route one is the only way to go.
The use of the word Portamento – the musical term for "a gradual slide from one note to another", and used here to denote change – threatens to derail this base formula. But don’t worry. The change in question, namely last year’s departure of co-guitarist Adam Kessler, has created an even more stripped-out sound, even when electronics are sometimes thrown into the mix. And titles such as Days, Money and In the Cold reveal The Drums are still keeping it simple.
"Devastated" by Kessler’s decision, the remaining trio were clearly keen to move on, given Portamento arrives just 14 months after their debut. And it does sound rushed. Portamento is simplicity redux, to the point of composing songs that sound too alike, and too like the last album. The lyrics to Money could easily be sung over the following Hard to Love. Is the backdrop to I Don’t Know How to Love much different to, say, Let’s Go Surfing? True, the difference between The Beach Boys’ first two albums is roughly the same. ‘Progress’ is perhaps overrated. And a few plays in, I Don’t Know How to Love’s nimble, hypnotic and archly simple beauty digs in.
Yet Portamento is richer still when it changes tack. Searching for Heaven’s analogue synth burble is perfect for Pierce’s languid declaration, and If He Likes It Let Him Do It (how Morrissey would kill for that title) grows in stature when a Theremin-toned synth soars through the chorus, sounding closer to the uncanny lush pop of The Associates. I Need a Doctor isn’t far behind, either. Next to them, though, Days and In the Cold resemble throwaways. In other words, here’s to The Drums’ Pet Sounds.