Album Reviews

The Drums – Portamento

(Moshi Moshi) UK release date: 5 September 2011

Amid the wave of new music that was hyped at the start of 2010, the guitar bands that really cracked it were the likes of Two Door Cinema Club and The Drums, whose brand of upbeat, summery throwaway pop was more accessible than the electro being pedalled in other quarters, yet cooler than the recycled grunge being pushed elsewhere.

The Drums’ self-titled debut sold more than 200,000 copies, so it’s no wonder that their label, Moshi Moshi, was keen to push out its follow up quickly. But, just 15 months after their first release, are we – and they – ready for more?

It doesn’t seem to have been a problem for them; Portamento is by no means a seismic shift in style and quality, but it’s a satisfying graduation from their first effort. The foundations remain the same (Brit-centric, ’80s indie with lashings of jangly guitars and synths), but there’s more depth and focus this time around.

Instead of Let’s Go Surfing, we’re faced with Book Of Revelations. “Oh darling you are the son of an evil man, I know you hate yourself but you’re nothing like him… I believe when you die you die” is a lyric that packs quite a punch when delivered in a Robert Smith warble by a man brought up by a strictly religious family.

That man, singer Jonathan Pierce, has a voice moulded around those of his idols; with Smith’s warbles and Ian Curtis‘s baritone, but he manages to stretch it even further than that, to wrap it around some of the higher synths.

Guitarist Adam Kessler left the band at the end of last year, but his departure has done little to change their sound. At times the clunking, New Order synths sound a little more industrial than the Beach Boys-styled light and loose sounds of their first outing, and What You Were sees a more angular, choppy guitar than we’re used to, but elsewhere the C86 strumming is still ever present.

The trio are from Brooklyn, but they’re devoted Anglophiles, and they channel many a classic British indie band; Orange Juice, The Field Mice, The Cure, and song titles like If He Likes It Let Him Do It are undoubted nods towards The Smiths. But somehow they still manage to make every song sound like The Drums.

Critics will attack the album for having just one pace, but it’s when they deviate from this default that they trip up. Searching For Heaven is an embarrassing moment of experimentation, with rolling Radiohead-esque loops, complete with Thom Yorke whine. One of the album’s best bits, I Need A Doctor, also sees them change tack, this time for the better. It sports a minimal, Associates-style backing, which masks Pierce’s menacing chorus: “I need a doctor, you know I love ya, but I wanna kill ya.”

With their second album The Drums are more absorbing than ever, and have created a record that will last far longer than their first. The disposable, weary tracks like Best Friend have gone, but not at the expense of the feel-good, danceable songs that they’ve made their trademark. If they can create this just a year after their first album, we await their third with baited breath.

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More on The Drums
The Drums – Encyclopedia
The Drums @ Hoxton Square Bar + Kitchen, London
The Drums – Portamento
The Drums @ Heaven, London
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