Album: The Drums, The Drums (Moshi Moshi/Island)
Friday 04 June 2010
The New York quartet The Drums are perhaps the highest profile exponents of the current trend of American indie bands attempting to re-deploy the sounds and attitudes of the British new-wave era.
They're less slavish than some – their appropriation of nimble Johnny Marr-esque arpeggiated guitar figures, skeletal New Order-style rhythm patterns and undulating synth lines is harnessed here to a pop sensibility that draws on even earlier modes. The careering bassline of last year's breakthrough single "Let's Go Surfing" evokes the hedonist thrust of some 1960s garage surf-band, heading pell-mell in their woodie to catch a wave, while at the opposite extreme, the slow, impassioned love song "Down by the Water" has the earnest naivete of classic girl-group pop from that same era.
But it's perhaps album opener "Best Friend" that best demonstrates their favoured tropes: the terse, mechanistic beat, as if programmed on some primitive drum-machine, underpins a jaunty African guitar twinkle in the fashionable Vampire Weekend manner, with Jonathan Pierce's somewhat epicene vocal style bringing suitably dramatic emotion to a lyric about a deceased friend. Often throughout the album, Pierce will effectively abandon words for strings of wordless scat passages that serve to throw the focus back on to the melodic hooks – which, fortunately, are the band's most agreeable aspect.
Time and again, though, I found my attention distracted by the brittle artifice of The Drums' music: it often seems as if their primary intention is the creation of an excessively synthetic sound, the sonic equivalent of fake E-number food flavourings.
There's a similar sense of disingenuous innocence about some of Pierce's lyrics, a strategy seemingly designed to lure the listener into deceptive acceptance of more complex positions. His relationships are rarely smooth sailing: in "Book of Stories" he concedes, "I thought my life would get easier/ Instead, it's getting tougher without you"; while his dispassionate attitude to another's misery in "It Will All End in Tears" is just a hard-hearted response to deceit: "I don't feel sorry when you cry... because your eyes are always saying goodbye." Many of the album's best lines are the result of this sort of observational acuity, most notably the tragically cooling romance sketched in "Me and the Moon": "It's another night with that look in your eye... but you still sleep with your back to me."
It's claimed that seven of the album's 12 songs were recorded the very first time that Pierce visited fellow Drums founder Jacob Graham at the latter's Florida base – a prodigious spurt of inspiration reflected in their shared summer theme – with the more melancholy remainder triggered later by what the singer refers to as his "winter of discontent". If that's true, they probably needn't worry about coming up with enough material for That Difficult Second Album; but next time, they might try polishing the songs a bit more.
DOWNLOAD THIS Best Friend; Me and the Moon; I Need Fun in My Life
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