the Drums perform Thursday, October 27th with guests IO Echo.
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’m not interested in knowing what he’s up to.”
In the leadup to the release of the Drums’ second album, Portamento, Pierce has sounded dismissive of the band’s general career trajectory, claiming that they don’t “have a very long shelf life as a band” and that they came close to breaking up this past June following “a lot of shouting matches.” Accordingly, that grim outlook is reflected in their most recent work. Throughout Portamento‘s 12 songs, there are 11 references to death or dying, the most notable arriving on “Days” when Pierce testifies to his past devotion to a broken relationship by casually tossing out the revelation that he “killed myself.” Obsessing over mortality is nothing new in indie pop, let alone within the Drums’ catalog thus far. Remember, this is a band whose first album kicked off with a song called “Best Friend” that started like this: “You were my best friend/ And then you died.”
Clearly, Pierce’s ego has been well-fed– his recent quote-worthy nature in the press reflects that of the leader of a prototypical British buzz band (fittingly, despite Brooklyn ties, the UK has welcomed the band with open arms, more so than the States). Which is why it’s surprising that Portamento sounds and feels like a smaller, more intimate album than last year’s self-titled predecessor. After all, it’s not like they did anything drastically different this time around– like The Drums, Portamento was largely recorded in a band member’s apartment (Pierce’s), as well as a few studios in NYC and upstate Woodstock. (For those who bemoaned the production value of the first LP, be warned: Portamento very much sounds like it was recorded in someone’s apartment.)
The lack of “bigness” on Portamento most likely owes to the fact that the Drums aren’t on a major label anymore (in the U.S., anyway). Here in the States, they’ve gone to Frenchkiss, a more suitable home considering its strong roster of bands-that-sound-like-a-lot-of-bands. In case you haven’t noticed by now, the Drums do sound like a lot of bands, taking in everything from the Beach Boys‘ controlled falsettos to the loving cloyingness of late Swedish indie-pop greats the Honeydrips. As it turns out, the new surroundings are more beneficial for them: There’s not as much pressure to be extroverted for the sake of courting a larger audience. This means that there’s no “Me and the Moon” or “Forever and Ever Amen“– two big, great songs that would sound too anthemic and overblown if they were on this record. In the place of anthems, though, are carefully constructed gems making up a sequencing run so solid it takes a few listens to pick out the exact drop-off point (“In the Cold”, in case you were wondering). From the saxes and Theremin-like squeal in “What You Were” to the heart-tugging kickoff of “Hard to Love”, it’s the small, detailed moments that take you by surprise here– kind of like life, really.
And, despite all the drama and tortured sentiments, that’s what the Drums are all about: real life, and the pains and pleasures (mostly pains) that come along with loving while you still have fresh breath in your lungs. Yes, Pierce talks about selling a gun in “Money”, but the song is basically about how he doesn’t have enough money to buy a lover a nice present. Being broke (and feeling inadequate because of that) is something we can all relate to, no matter how embarrassing it might be for a bunch of major-label refugees to admit. It’s time to stop begrudging these guys for being stylish and faddish, because real emotions like the ones they work in are ugly and petty and hard to bear in public. You can get as many haircuts and buy as many trendy outfits as you want, but you’re not going to change the fact that it’ll never be cool to feel upset, angry, and alone.