(Island/Moshi Moshi/Downtown; 2010)
By Andrew Hall | 12 June 2010
I’m fairly confident that the Drums are going to be huge in England. They’re post-punk revivalists with a major label supporting them, Jonathan Pierce appears to be the kind of frontman who will deliver on theatrics and emoting, and like many before them they draw a whole lot of inspiration from Factory Records.
On Myspace, the band lists its influences as “The Wake, The Smiths, The Legends, The Shangri-Las, The Tough Alliance, The Embassy, Orange Juice, Joy Division.” There’s no reason to not believe this fail to acknowledge how much more like New Order than Joy Division they are, as well as how much more like TTA and the Embassy’s influences they are than either of those bands; TTA’s air of mysticism, playfulness, and penchant for unexpected sampling is absent here, as is the Embassy’s use of house and balearic beat as a point of departure from which they build melancholic guitar pop. Instead, the Drums come across predominantly as revivalists, albeit revivalists with a pretty engaging singer.
Jonathan Pierce is undoubtedly the center of this band. His vocals are at the forefront of every song; they propel them from verse to verse and ensure that there’s virtually no dead space anywhere. Even the slightest moments get treated with whistling and vocalizations of some kind, and perhaps the Drums’ biggest draw at this point is the juxtaposition of Pierce, who presents himself with the restraint of a fifties teen-pop singer, fronting a band otherwise completely and totally indebted to post-punk.
At times, it works. There’s nothing here as manic or as giddy as on last year’s Summertime! EP (except for “Let’s Go Surfing,” which essentially appears in the same form on both records), and that energy’s been exchanged for a seriousness that simultaneously screams British indie and an attempt at world domination. With the beach party vibe turned down considerably, they lose a big part of their novelty. More than anything, the “down down baby”-quoting bridge of “Let’s Go Surfing” is still the band’s best hook, totally making up for the fact that Pierce and company couldn’t possibly be less interested in surfing at this point. Of the new songs, “We Tried” is the biggest highlight; lyrically it’s nothing new (Pierce narrates a story of looking for someone, failing, aching), but its chorus’ melody is so striking and the production (compressed, reverbed handclaps crash through every beat, giving an effect of negative space solely through the contrast created by how quiet everything else is) feels not of 1982 but of 2012. “Down By the Water” is equally spacious, and even its weak verses can’t ruin it.
Elsewhere, they miss: the cinematics by way of synthesizers in “Forever and Ever Amen” are too much a reminder of Pierce’s former band Elkland (or the Killers, for that matter), “I Need Fun in My Life” gets derailed by a chorus that sounds like it’s trying too hard. As a whole, The Drums is a conflicting package. The band has reined in its eccentricities considerably, and when post-punk and C86 remains so prominent, this seems a dangerous thing. I can only hope that regardless of whether or not this debut manages to achieve world domination they use their success (or lack thereof) as an opportunity to depart and find new ways to win us over.