Brooklyn duo The Drums have decided to “stick their necks out” for third studio release Encyclopedia. Aiming for “less dreaminess”, they’ve certainly thrown caution to the wind, pushing the experimental side further forward and the older, faster and poppy material to the side as they “leave the beach for higher ground”.
The duo weren’t always a duo of course; originally a quartet, Adam Kessler left in 2010 with Connor Harwick following a couple of years later, leaving the band down to its core (and original catalyst) of Jonny Pierce and Jacob Graham. Last year saw them indulging in solo work, although few fruits were borne, so they regrouped in order to have another crack together.
Following a stint in a lakeside cabin, they returned to the studio to lay down the new tracks and Pierce says of album curtain raiser and lead single Magic Mountain that they chose to “hit people over the head and see what happens”. Built around a repetitive doomy bass line, the experimental sounding track sounds chaotic to say the least, so mission accomplished, one would imagine. Handclapping beats, X-Files like whistling synths and racing percussion create a bit of a mess, and the never ending chorus “inside my magic mountain…” will probably piss you off after just a couple of plays.
I Can’t Pretend fares better; a slower effort, it is built around simple synth sounds and subtle bass that are then joined by a more satisfying synth loop before swirling spacey synth noises arrive. I Hope Time Doesn’t Change Him is also less intrusive; another slow beat and prominent bass adorn this more floaty, dreamy number before Kiss Me Again returns to the more frantic, crazy dance flavour. This whole song can be summed up in its intro, a loop that is repeated over and over after verses peppered with various electronica and ever present bassline, but the over repetition reminds of how Klaxons irritated with this year’s Love Frequency album. Let Me does the same amidst racing guitars and rapid percussion, lyrics of “they might hate you but I love you and they can go kill themselves” being slightly over the top.
Break My Heart takes the pace back down for another dreamy cut with more whistling synths but is ultimately a yawnfest. Face Of God reintroduces racing guitars as an early ‘80s feel surfaces – the uninspiring chorus of “I saw the face of God he showed me how to live…I threw it back at him” adds little, but musically it’s more attention grabbing. US National Park crawls along to a plodding bass and boring guitar riff before Deep In My Heart provides a rare highlight, a better guitar riff doing most of the work.
Bell Labs sounds way too spacey and experimental, its mysterious echoey and simple synth melody sounding dated but then when the album appears to be heading down Dross Street, There Is Nothing Left arrives. It’s a clear winner for best track on the collection, the song structure holding together firmly with pleasant verses being topped off by an excellent, soaring synth-pop chorus. Wild Geese then closes the album, beginning in typical synth-pop style before morphing into a twinkling, soothing effort carried along by a delightful guitar melody, a beautiful piece of music that would have sat proudly on The Crimea’s Square Moon from 2013.
Encylopedia is an album that will be either loved or hated; there is little in-between as the narrow line separating catchiness from irritation shrinks to a hair’s width. It’s certainly more towards the experimental side but early fans are likely to be disappointed. And perhaps that’s what the duo have lost sight of – their fanbase. It’s all very well sticking your necks out, but when they’re out this far then prepare for some flak.