ISLAND / UNIVERSAL
It's a known fact that the second album is the toughest for a band, as they often face the following choice: to further explore the sound of their debut, or to take a different road entirely. Which is what The Drums were deciding, after making their debut at the start of the summer of 2010 and are now, a good year later, about to release the follow-up, “Portamento”. In their case, the choice was relatively easy. First of all because they were confronted with the “devastating” departure of one of their guitarists, Adam Kessler. Secondly, because the now trio is renouncing tracks like “Let’s Go Surfing” -their most popular song and the best example of their most naïve and poppy side (they don't even play it live anymore, something truly surprising in a world where many bands live off past interests). So Jonathan Pierce and company decided to change their sound, something they started to repeat over and over again in countless interviews. It became even clearer when they announced the title of their second album - which means something like the transition from one sound to another - and they showed a then mysterious video containing a fragment of a track with some cosmic keyboards. But then, the first advance track appeared - “Money” - and we started to ask ourselves if they had been pulling our leg. The track was as addictive and reminiscent of The Wake as many of their earlier songs.
After a quick first listen, “Portamento” leaves you with the feeling that they haven't changed their sound much at all. The references to other British bands like The Smiths, New Order, The Cure, Joy Division, Orange Juice and aforementioned The Wake are still there. But as you go deeper inside, you notice that The Drums haven't been pulling our leg entirely. The start of the album, especially the first four tracks, seems like the logical succession of the debut. “Book Of Revelation” has the same musical coordinates, but here, instead of talking about sun, best friends, going to the beach and surfing the waves, they talk about spirituality (remember that Pierce was brought up in a family of pastors of a Pentecostal church). But they didn't forget the catchy choruses: “I’ve seen the world, and there’s no heaven and there’s no hell / And I believe / That when we die, we die”. So the formula is almost identical, but the ingredients aren't. The Brooklynites' lyrics are self-referential, touch on tougher subjects and sound more mature; like the band themselves. It's hard to believe that all this has happened in only fifteen months. Another highlight of the first quartet of songs is “What You Were”, the first piece they wrote after Kessler left, with a nod to a non-British band, The Strokes.
After “Money”, the change starts to become more obvious. The hyperactive guitars are still there, but there's more room now for the keyboards (for this album they used a modular synthesiser made years ago by Jacob Graham). You can hear it on “Hard To Love”, but it's especially clear on “Searching For Heaven”, the track they used for the teaser video mentioned earlier. Although it's the only track with the cosmic influences we thought the whole album was going to be infested with, at least it shows that The Drums are also fascinated by artists like Kraftwerk and Wendy Carlos.
“Searching For Heaven” is the start of the most profound and solid part of the album. The tracks start to sound darker and the euphoria and optimism of their early work starts to make way for desolation and melancholy, palpable on “Please Don’t Leave” and “In The Cold”, respectively. In its turn, “I Need A Doctor” talks about the daily life of a mentally unstable person. It goes on like this until we reach the key moment of “Portamento”, “If He Likes It Let Him Do It”; brilliant title and better song. Here we hear all the best things Pierce and his boys have to give: the vocal tricks that made the fans fall in love with them, great use of synthesisers, the trademark playful guitar and lyrics talking about the things we do for love. Welcome to The Drums 2.0.
Álvaro García Montoliu