(Twenty Seven; 2009)
By George Bass | 15 September 2009
Riding in like surfboys on a crystal blue peeler, New York’s the Drums glide across the Atlantic with the EP they’ve been promising since May. Summertime! might seem like an odd project to be touting now that the leaves are all dead, but Jonathan Pierce/Jacob Graham’s joie de vivre is unseasonably infectious, provoking both puppy-love and Pit Bull envy for that one darned elusive perfect summer. To anyone who’s ever felt seventeen and overheated, the Drums offer six very seductive nuggets of pick-yourself-up pop, posing a question that’s stumped both of the frontmen since they were four: what if Joy Division had done a beach party record? One can almost picture it now: Sumner and Hook in a volleyball lockdown while Curtis’ chicks get the ice cream. Ranks of aquatic athletes with longboards whoop from the shore. Patrick Swayze capsizes. (Too soon?)
Summertime!, I’m pretty sure, is some kind of masterstroke in that it capably fuses a Honolulu vibe with the post-punk thrill of Factory Records. Somehow the two styles click like a travel adaptor and go forth, less tourist-y than expected, with the zing of a dubious blue cocktail. “The Saddest Summer” is all the proof you need of the Drums’ quickfire potency, where a bass beach ball stops just short of breakneck speed, synths and guitars all toppling. At first listen, I was already in love by this point anyway, as the song was clearly a nod to my two favourite things—J.P. Donleavy and alliteration—and despite the hyperactive optimism there are some evil heatstroke in the lyrics (“Summer’s just beginning, baby / I might learn to hate you, lady / One week and you’re acting crazy / I might have to hate you, baby / This is what I thought it would be / This is the saddest summer ever”). C’mon! For my money that’s got to be Chorus ’09, and with the music thrown in on top it stings like the traps full of jellyfish you’d dig on the beach and cover with sand for the honeymooners.
Graham and Pierce keep that bile on a leash, though, and prevent Summertime! from being a mascot for hermitry by championing the fun of high temperatures. If the record’s median beats-per-second gets too close to breathless for the hip crowd, more straightforward love songs like “Down By The Water” will help restore some cool. A dusky “Stand By Me” facsimile that gradually becomes more original than that description warrants, it finds the illustrative, obligatory surfboy ushering in an evening breeze and declaring his love for his beloved. As a stoner trill and hazy snare drums provide Pierce with some much-needed buddy courage (“You’ve gotta believe me / When I say the word forever / I know it’s hard / But I understand you / Just take my hand”), the track dips into a spectacular keyboard refrain, like fireworks at the end of a Pixar film. It’s innocent as fuck, of course, but the Drums are by no means green all over; “Don’t be a Jerk, Jonny” uses girlband harmonics to dampen the rants of a control freak and “Make You Mine” (which isn’t a subliminal message to get listeners excavating coal) takes the various pains of living with an ex and coats it with the deadliest of Britpop—the kind that starts as a cute melody but infests completely after three days of listening.
So in summary, I never thought I’d say this as a bone-white Englishman with an inbuilt wasp phobia, but I really, really enjoy Summertime!. Future recipe books should note that surfer-rama guitar tricks and the pain of the North go together like cops in an action film, channeling more cultures than a bacteria technician gone rogue. “I’m laughing then I’m crying / Better sink down,” exclaims Pierce halfway through “Submarine,” making more sense to me than anything yellow the Beatles faffed around on. I urge you to try the Drums before they finally close the beach for this season. In fact, I urge you to try them in mid-November, when the tunes will chafe just that much more. Pleasure and pain. Fine line.