Tag Archives: The Drums

The Drums ‘Brutalism’ – Review

17 Apr

Back in 2009 ‘Let’s Go Surfing’ carried The Drums on a wave of hype that anticipated greatness. Both NME and Pitchfork, rarely united on anything at the time, crowned them ‘Best new band’ at the end of the year. In retrospect the song presented The Drums at their most accessible and least likely. Its wide screen romance is emblematic of their early output but the airy light-heartedness would not be easily replicated. In contrast to the reputation they’ve built since, as dour miserabilists, the track stands apart. Indeed, few songs smack of 2009 Obama-optimism as much this exhalation of ocean breeze. ‘There’s a new kid in the town, he’s gonna make it all better’ Peirce convincingly crooned. Ten years on, the folly in blind belief in an incumbent president is clear to see. But even now, listening to the carefree whistles and twanging bassline, it’s easy to get swept back up in that feeling for three and half minutes. Emotional escapism – whatever the emotion – has always been The Drums calling card. Which makes their latest trick all the more impressive; to maintain that glorious, escapist feeling while wading in to the territory of brutal self examination, hyper specific lyricism in the context of America, 2019. ‘Brutalism’ is therefore, in every conceivable sense, The Drums most daring album to date.

That sense of optimism captured on ‘Let’s Go Surfing’ certainly isn’t replicated but neither is the crushing pessimism of ‘Portamento’, ‘Encyclopaedia’ or ‘Abysmal Thoughts’. Instead, there is now a stoicism, borne from experience and increasing understanding of how the world works. On ‘Pretty Cloud’ Pierce glories in the unpredictability of love for another, equally impulsive individual, whether that brings sun or sorrow. ‘I am blisful in whatever you give me. I lean on the mystery…’ whereas a decade ago he was fretting about how he was ‘going to make you mine’ he now seems certain that ‘good luck and a good fuck, a glass of wine and some quality wine is going to make you mine.’

The Drums mythic romanticism and cinematic despair has been usurped by an almost zen-like ‘que sarà confidence. Jonny is at peace with his happiness and his sadness. He embraces his sexuality and desire. The mean spirited bitterness that soured some of his past writing has matured in to something like acceptance. The contentedness that exudes from the lyrics is perfectly complimented by the musical forthrightness. Sampled drums no longer get drowned in reverb. Instead, crisply programmed beats trickle loudly in the mix. The bass lines also get projected. Real chords consistently flow from the guitars for the first time on a Drums album and every sound coalesces together very neatly in to a polished pop whole. Compared to the lo-fi production and simplistic musicality of the group’s early work, ‘Brutalism’ sounds modern and glorious. None of the band’s personality is lost in the process either, if anything it’s an elevation of everything that marked them out as unique.

Pierce is still a romantic at heart, the type of sap who ‘bet my life on one kiss’, as he puts it in the title track. But this time around there is an understanding that the highs and lows of life approximate two sides of the same coin tossed by the hand of fate. On ‘Brutalism’ and ‘262 Bedford Avenue’ desire might lead to heartbreak, but it’s pursued anyway as an end within itself. The happiness described on the album finale ‘Blip of Joy’ may be temporary but it’s there to be cherished for the time it lasts. Jonny’s voice is as gooey as ever. He’s still coo-Ing and harmonising with himself, still reaching for notes ever so slightly out of reach, still sounding giddy at the possibilities of love and melody. In the heartbreakingly stark ‘Nervous’ he presents his most sophisticated and honest vocal performance to date, honing in on the particulars of a post-break up reunion with total clarity. ‘I Wanna Go Back’ is similarly moving, conjuring memories of the classic ‘Book of Stories’. The hooks may not as be as sharp, and the chorus doesn’t linger in the memory quite as potently, but the nostalgic sentiment is utterly moving.

Essentially ‘Brutalism’ is a colourful explosion of everything The Drums have always prided themselves on: sticky melodies, simple arrangements and vivid emotion. It’s firmly rooted in the tradition of indie pop but sounds less tethered to the sometimes cloying conventions of the genre. It’s also less tethered to the set of conventions The Drums created for themselves a decade ago. But the experimentation feels playful and sincere. Crucially, these still sound like Drums songs. Compared to the lumpy and awkward diversions of the band’s other left-field experiment, ‘Encyclopaedia’, ‘Brutalism’ feels like a more natural progression. It confirms once again, if it needed confirming, that The Drums are a group to treasure and one of the most inexplicably underrated bands of the decade.



Deakin ‘Sleep Cycle’ – Review

19 May

Deakin is Animal Collective’s unknown quantity. He wasn’t involved in their greatest success (‘Meriwether Post Pavillion’) or their biggest failure (this year’s poorly received ‘Painting With’). His contributions have been modest and his voice has been the least heard. Nonetheless, his one vocal addition to the fairly unlistenable ‘Centepiede HZ’, ‘Wide Eyed’, resulted in the album’s finest moment. ‘Sleep Cycle’ is his first solo album and it suggests that perhaps Deakin had more of an influence than we thought. In its tone and soundscapes it recalls the lush beauty of ‘Feels’ and ‘Song Tungs’ era Animal Collective. It’s a short but lovely record.

In fact It’s a shame ‘Sleep Cycle’ is flying so low under the radar as it’s the best thing to come out of the Animal Collective camp since ‘Fall be Kind’. It has none of the restless uncertainty of Panda Bear’s ‘Meets the Grim Reaper’, and it’s nowhere near as annoying as ‘Centepeide HZ’ or ‘Painting With’. It’s ethereal melodies and earthy instrumentation return us to the band’s early artistic endeavours when the group were basically folky hippies with an interest in electronics and psychedelic indulgences.

Whilst an unremarkable singer, it’s notable how similar Deakin sounds to Panda Bear, albeit with a less angelic tone. His melodies, set free by simple, Unfussy lyrics, are ambitiously fluid and compelling. He’s obviously been paying close attention to his band mate over the years. This comfortable familiarity is offset by the unexpected musical journeys he takes us on. ‘Sleep Cycle’ was initially inspired by a trip to ‘Mali’ and you feel the unfamiliarity of those surroundings in the dislocated beats, shuffling rhythms and acoustic oscillations. Occasionally field recordings are utilised with impressive effect, as on the short centrepiece ‘Shadow Mine’, On which Deakin pants and whimpers ‘when I get lonely…’ over what sounds like a religious chant. This part-instrumental / part field recording helps to break up the album in to two distinctive sections.

Here then is the AnCo member who understands pacing. Deakin knows that you can’t just hit your listener over the head with disorientating sounds and beats right out the gate and then continue to batter them in to submission for the rest of the album. ‘Sleep Cycle’ builds beautifully, starting with the acoustic ‘Golden Chords’ which slowly washes over ambient samples before melting in to the more poppy ‘Just Am’. It’s only with perfect timing, after yet more build that we get the frantic and unnerving ‘Footy’, which is as loud and brash as anything on ‘Painting With’ but isolated and surrounded by more lush and ornate textures. Listening to ‘Footy’ feels like you’ve reached the top of the mountain, or any high; everything before was leading to this point and everything after gently brings you down.

Clocking in at half an hour with only five ‘proper’ songs, ‘Sleep Cycle’ leaves you wanting more. It’s a slight but meticulously crafted album. Far from being the disposable member, it turns out that Deakin was a crucial clog in the Animal Collective machine. Based on this evidence, they will sorely miss his contributions for as long as he stays away.



The Last Shadow Puppets ‘Everything You’ve Come to Expect’ – Review

5 Apr

Watching Alex Turner and Miles Kane flirt, gyrate and strut across the stage at their recent London show, in matching grey suits, they appeared the picture of audacious confidence. Only in Butlins would you find more flamboyant showmanship, manufactured cockiness and camp outfits. It’s therefore useful to remind ourselves that it has been quite a journey to reach this destination. Back In 2008 they were just two loveable Northern rogues already fronting successful bands, who inexplicably decided to abandon their day jobs for a year to make a loving homage to balladeers like Scott Walker, Dion and early David Bowie whilst amping the melodrama to Ernico Morricone levels. ‘The Age of the Understatement’ was the product of youthful, infectious enthusiasm. It was pretentious, exuberant, silly, ambitious and sparodically excellent.

It also provided a much needed breather for Alex Turner. Not yet 21, he’d had a number one single to his name with his first attempt and received high acclaim. In 2008 he was trying to shake free from the shackles of rock stardom and The Last Shadow Puppets was essentially a vehicle for that. It was both an education in musical experimentation, a symbol of independence and a chance to cut loose. The intervening years have been kinder still and Turner seems to have embraced his destiny as a Rock Demi-God. 2013’s ‘A.M’ was Arctic Monkeys biggest, and possibly best, record yet and the idea of a follow up must be daunting. Once again, Last Shadow Puppets provides respite, relief and opportunity for a bit of a laugh.

Essentially Alex and Miles still come across like two lads on holiday. They sound more carefree and lacksidazicle than they have in years, which is both a help and a hinderance to the success of the record. The freedom that the Shadow Puppets umbrella provides has allowed them to dip their toes in new waters as well as flip casually through Arctic Monkeys playbook, revisiting the gloomy desert rock of ‘Humbug’ on ‘She Does the Woods’, the indie pop of ‘Suck it and See’ on ‘The Miracle Aligner’ and the widescreen balladry of the Submarine soundtrack on ‘The Dream Synopsis’. They eye up lite-disco on the shimmering ‘Element of Surprise’, northern soul on ‘Pattern’ and rock out on ‘Bad Habits’ and ‘Used to be my Girl.’

But youthful enthusiasm has been traded in, perhaps inevitably, for a discomforting dose of cynicism. It’s been eight years since ‘Age of the Understatement’ and Alex and Miles have lived with their influences for years now. They aren’t digesting sounds as teenagers do and this is not the first flush of youth. Tellingly, ‘Everything You’ve Come to Expect’ is neater, more accomplished, more restrained and assured than the debut. But even in its best moments there is the sense that these are just slightly more sinister, guarded and weary takes on songs we’ve heard before. First single ‘Bad Habbits’ was an utter disappointment. It’s woozy melody, or rather Kane’s embittered delivery of it, contains nothing but bile and its lyrics are mean spirited (‘should’ve known little girl that you’d do me wrong/ should have known by the way you were showing off). Aside from a nice baseline and an interesting string arrangements from the always reliable Owen Pallett, the song has nothing of interest to offer. But Turner has form for releasing red herrings as lead singles (‘Brick by Brick’ and ‘Don’t Sit Down’ being the obvious examples) and luckily, ‘Bad Habits’ is the only truly obnoxious song on here. Mostly, ‘Everything You’ve Come to Expect’ manages to be thoroughly enjoyable.

Opening track ‘Aviation’ picks up roughly where ‘Age of the Understatment’ left off, with a bombastic string arrangement, harmonies and bold metaphors galore. But moments that so blatantly recall the debut are hard to find, past obviously hearing Alex and Miles sing in tandem over some lush string arrangements. The title track has a nicely lilting melody that recalls ‘Pet Sounds’ era Beach Boys (and I don’t use that comparison lightly). ‘The Dream Synopsis’ and ‘Sweet Dreams TN’ demonstrate Turner’s beautiful, crooning voice which has added depth and richness over the last eight years – you get the impression he’s been indulging in far too much expensive whisky and cigarettes. These tracks in particular also convey the most generous and endearing lyrics on the record. The latter is a love song that boarders on the sleazy (‘I ain’t got anything to lick without you baby’ ‘maybe we ought to fuck’) but redeems itself through Turner’s humorous asides and completely over the top delivery where he channels his inner Roy Orbison and then some. On the former he reminds us of his stunning observational gift with a throwaway line about the object of his affection having a ‘leaning tower of pint pots in your hand – you can carry much more than I can.’ These days he favours Impressionistic wordplay over observational realism but in that line he reminds us why we fell in love with the little scamp in the first place.

However, the simple days of ‘his way or no way totalitarians’, ‘Topshop princesses’ and ‘weekend rock stars’ are long gone. In 2016 Alex Turner is a much more divisive figure. Trying to explain his current shtick (for want of a better word) is getting harder. There’s a certain detached irony to his rock n roll persona, a certain cheekiness and smart-alec self awareness, but an equal sense that he’s genuinely in love with old fashioned, obnoxious rock star chic. Representative of this was his ‘mic drop’ at the 2014 Brit awards which occurred after delivering an acceptance speech that amounted to a nonsensical but brilliant analysis of rock n roll’s place in pop culture. He was serious but not serious, tongue in cheek but armed with a solid point. The tabloid columnists were up in arms the next day – how dare this ungrateful hooligan mock the seriousness of the Brit institution! His fans got it but others were bewildered. He was either wilfully rude, arrogant or spaced out on cocaine depending on who you spoke to. Love it or hate it, one thing was for sure – In his bravado, swagger and utter confidence he appeared about as far removed from the shy Alex Turner of ten years ago as we ever could have imagined.

In the two years since that Brit appearance, Turner has rambled even further in to murky, gold medallion, slicked back hair and velour tracksuit territory. He now has the appearance of a 1970s Mafia boss on holiday in Malabo. Until now that vibe has been restricted to his style and on stage mannerisms but on ‘Everything You’ve Come to Expect’ it’s leaked into the lyrics; the album is dripping with sleaziness. The first album was obsessed with femme fetales but ‘Everything You’ve Come to Expect’ amps up the contempt and becomes a slightly uncomfortable listen because of it, especially in light of some rather tasteless, borderline lecherous comments made by Miles Kane to a Female journalist. It isn’t smart or interesting to make references, more than once, to a girl who needs to get down on her knees. Nor is it charming to ask a girl if she wants it ‘on my planet or yours’. And ‘just tell me when you want your socks knocking off’ is the wrong side of confident. Both Miles and Alex need to hold themselves to a higher standard than that. Thankfully, some distasteful lyrics and an air of naughtiness isn’t enough to derail an otherwise enjoyable record – if it was there’s no way the recent Kanye West album would have received so much attention. The otherwise imaginative language and captivating imagery is ultimately what you’re left remembering – the ‘four horsemen in a one horse race’, the ‘dirtbag ballet by the bins down the alley’ and the ‘chalet of the shadow of death’ – and that’s just one song.

‘The Dream Synopsis’ demonstrates a more tender side to their songwriting that is underused and perhaps undervalued. Here Alex reflects nostalgically on a moment of sneaky indulgence at work. ‘Well we were kissing, it was secret, we had to sneak beyond the kitchen. Both well aware that there’d be trouble if the manager should find us…’ Perhaps that’s instructive of how we should treat ‘Everything You’ve Come to Expect’, as a brief, indulgent, somewhat uncomfortable and slightly dangerous moment of escapism. In a minute or so the kiss is over and it’s back to work. You walk away unsure of what to make of it but Are thrilled nonetheless. Next year there will be new Arctic Monkeys and Miles Kane albums, you can be sure of it. They will be less adventurous, less scandalous and probably more successful. But will they be this much fun?



Johnny Pierce to release solo album

2 Dec

Johnny from The Drums is going solo! He’s releasing an album next year which he has written, recorded and produced all by himself. Here’s what he had to say on the subject.

“Some might say it’s strange for a man to bare his soul the way I do on this album, but I wanted to do something that exposed me for who I am even more so than anything I have done with The Drums… I wanted to be as self-indulgent as possible with this album. This is pop done the way I think it should be done”.


The Drums ‘Portamento’ – Review

11 Sep

Many bands have a tendency to make sweeping statements, but The Drums have made more than most. They are a band that seem to be defined by rules; they class their music as pop, not indie and certainly not rock. Their songs can’t be longer than 4 minutes. They have no interest in developing or experimenting and songs should be as simple as possible. They want all their albums to sound the same. Consistency is king. Their aim is always to create perfect pop music, and whilst they didn’t always deliver (and by their own admission they sometimes broke their own carefully constructed rules) they succeeded more than most. If you fell in love with The Drums it was most likely because they had these kind of rules; they seemed like a band from another era who said the things a band should say, dressed like  a band should dress, and generally did the things bands should do. I think this is why early reviews (mine very much included) were hyperbolic and fantastically optimistic, The Drums genuinely stood out from the crowd because they seemingly arrived fully formed as a perfect band.

For a group that were so insistent on being consistent, It’s surprising to find that ‘Portamento’ is not the carbon copy of the debut that I had expected – perhaps this has something to do with the departure of original guitarist Adam Kessler and the resulting expansion of the group. One of The Drums ‘rules’ is that image is key, so rather than hire live musicians to help flesh out the tracks, the band used backing tracks on stage (alongside guitar, drums and vocals). It made for a very two-dimensional, if visually impressive, live set up. Now that Kessler has gone, the band seem to have thankfully backtracked on this stubborn policy, and they’ve now expanded to a (backing track free) five piece live. Keesler’s departure also resulted in a bit of a switch around for the remaining members. Former drummer Conner is now the guitarist and former guitarist Jacob is now on synths, whilst Johnny now drums as well as sings. Confusing, yes, but what it means in basic terms is this is a more ambitious (I have a feeling they would hate that word) and experimental (that one even more) album than ‘Summertime’ or ‘The Drums’.

Of course they are still a pop band, religiously so, reliant on melody, harmonies, and simple structures. But the songs feel less linier and less obvious, but as a result less catchy.  This time the melodies are more daring and theatrical, the instrumentation (still simple and guitar based but complimented by an analogue synth) is more melancholic. On ‘I Need a Doctor’ a vocal sample similar to the one used on ‘Best Friend’ is wrapped around beats that jump from channel to channel and an actual real life bassline (there was no bass on the debut). At first it’s a jarring mix, but it kind of works. ‘If He Likes It Let Him Do It’ is another departure; the synth in the chorus is like something from a hammer horror soundtrack and the guitar line is relentlessly dark and twisted. ‘Searching For Heaven’ takes the synth love even further – the entire song is built around an old analogue moog that sounds like it’s been locked in a German bunker for the past thirty years. These three songs are going to divide opinion, and I would be lying if I said they were wholly successful experiments, but it does display that the band have more depth and imagination than many critics originally gave them credit for.

Lyrically the debut dealt with abstract themes of love and loss, with songs that scanned like scenes from a black and white hollywood movie. This time I get the feeling that the songs are rooted more in specific, personal memories. On ‘The Book of Revelation’ when Johnny sings ‘You are the son of an evil man, I know you hate yourself but you’re nothing like him’ you somehow believe that he has lived it, where as when he sang ‘mama I wanna go surfing’, as brilliant a piece of escapism as it was, you just didn’t buy it. On ‘I Don’t Know How to Love’ he says ‘I remember football in the park’, whilst on ‘I Need a Doctor’ he talks about ‘that night you put your lipstick on me, I felt so stupid so I drank to get dizzy.’ It’s all rooted in Johnny’s past and he sells it with complete conviction. Whilst the verses are deeper and more complex, he’s still dealing with simple and memorable choruses that get straight to the point. The aim is to convey sadness in the most instant and direct way possible, for example ‘I want to buy you something, but I don’t have any money’ or ‘I wont ever hate you, but your hard to love’.

‘Money’ was a strange choice of first single – perhaps it was chosen because the record label execs thought that the theme of having no money would resonate, and it does, it’s just a shame that musically it’s a bit directionless – great bassline, but not much else. ‘Hard to Love’ or ‘I don’t Know How to Love’ might have been better choices, both have the infectious melodies that made ‘Best Friend’ and ‘Forever and Ever Amen’ minor hits. And make no mistake, as good as some of the more downbeat songs are, the group are still absolutely at their best when their melodies are as sunny as the lyrics are overcast.

‘How It Ended’ closes the album in much the same way ‘The Future’ closed the debut – essentially it’s as uplifting as The Drums get. ‘Those Days when I would sit around with you, there’s nothing like it. Even when my heart was black and blue, there’s nothing like it.’ Essentially the song is saying that it’s better to have loved and lost than to have never loved at all, whereas the rest of the album (particularly the second half) is bitter and resentful. So whilst ‘Portamento’ might be a complete downer for 35 odd minutes, the last four are at least a happy listening experience.

I always felt there was something a bit special about The Drums, ultimately the hype didn’t make for great sales but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t justified. They remain the idealist, superficial pop dream band; they still sound like every group you’ve always loved thrown into a blender, they still look perfect, dress perfect and say the perfect things; what’s interesting is that on this album they are moving away from the superficiality and adding some substance, but they never really forget the promises they made us in the beginning. Johnny once said ‘It’s the contrast that interests us, one shade of blue would be boring’ and the great strength of the debut was that it achieved the perfect blend of sweet and sour. This time around there is a lot less of the sweet and a lot more of the sour, which makes for a less satisfying and less enjoyable record, but ultimately it retains most of what I loved about this band whilst adding some new and exciting ingredients into the mix. Portamento is a musical term meaning a gentle slide or shift – it’s the perfect title for this transitional album.