Monday, 7 June 2010

The Drums - The Drums

This article originally appeared on the peerless (yet now sadly defunct) It's owners are now Suburban Tarts, who should be visited post-haste...

Released 6th June on Moshi Moshi

I like to think of myself as a person who is completely immune to hype. I’m not. No one is. So, when The Angel Gabriel himself arrived at Gobshout Towers on a flaming chariot, bearing a copy of The Drums' debut long-player, it was only natural that my heart rate went up a little. And with good reason: The Drums have been tipped as this year’s hottest band by just about everyone from the BBC to the NME and every acronym in between. Respected contemporary music commentator Boy George said they were like The Smiths. And he should know.

The Drums are a four-piece from New York, and Wikipedia informs me that they formed from the smoking remnants of the superlatively named Goat Explosion. Their background is largely in making electronic music and, although the synthesisers have been largely cast aside for this new band, their influence is all over this record. The racing rhythm tracks on songs like recent single Forever and Ever, Amen sound as though they could have been created for a loop-obsessed Hot Chip tribute band. This impression is exacerbated by the fact that it very often sounds as though drummer Connor Hardwick is in fact a drum machine: so overly produced is the drum track. Ironic really, considering the band name.

There’s certainly a lot to love about this record, or at the very least there’s a lot on which to build a solid platonic relationship that occasionally goes a bit further after a couple of glasses of cheap wine. So many of the songs sound thoroughly jaunty, and there’s a summer swagger to proceedings that makes me think this record might just be the one that your friend who bothered to bring speakers for his iPod will play when you’re all in the park on a Saturday. This effect is nowhere stronger than on Skippin’ Town, a sparky pop number that manages to survive the indignity of having fairly naff lyrics. Other highlights of this record include the aforementioned Forever and Ever, Amen and the cheery-yet-dreary I’ll Never Drop My Sword.

A curious inclusion on the record that deserves a paragraph all to itself is the brooding Down by the Water. It almost seems a little out of place, as it plods and lumbers along with all the urgency of a lovesick cow. It also contains some fairly atrocious lyrics (“Everybody’s gotta love someone / But I just wanna love you dear”) and it seems to be strategically placed to provide a change of pace at the beginning of side two (for those of you who still think of records that way). A seemingly random inclusion, but one that shows a potential for some range nevertheless. More on that later. Special mention should also go to It Will All End in Tears, which sees the band plunder Peter Hook’s oeuvre and come up with perhaps the only Joy Division bassline that Joy Division didn’t write.

In all, this is a solid debut, but there are just a couple of things that spoil the party for me. The first is the mattress of reverb (I’m patenting that expression, hands off) that smothers the whole record. The effect is to make the band sound as though they’re playing at the other end of a particularly lengthy plastic drainpipe. There’s nothing “crisp” on this album, no bite or attack to be found anywhere, which is a shame really. Secondly, there’s the lyrics, which are frequently embarrassingly obvious and occasionally a bit trite. I feel that comparisons to The Smiths should be put straight to bed the minute that Jonathan Pierce croons “Would you like to go with me / Honey, take a run down to the beach”. Sorry Boy George, but I respectfully disagree. I’ll stick with “For there are brighter sides to life / And I should know because I’ve seen them / but not very often”.

But my main issue with this album can be summed up as follows: this is what it sounds like when electronic bands make guitar music. There’s not a great deal of variation; many of the tracks are indistinguishable from one another for the first few listens, and the vague familiarity of the singles is the only initial landmark on the journey from start to finish.

There’s certainly nothing desperately wrong with this record, it’s a solid debut, as I said. But somehow I’m left slightly unsatisfied by the whole experience. This is frustrating, as there could have been slightly more made of this. The uniformity of the record is a bit of a trial, and it ultimately ends up grating; but that’s not to say that at points, it’s not a worthy addition to the canon of 21st century summer soundtracks.

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