Just over a decade ago, The Drums were a very different prospect. They were primed to be a new generation of indie-kids’ Beach Boys, their songs mainly hitting the coast with your pals clad in striped shirts. The band’s self-titled 2010 debut came good on the promise, landing somewhere between Orange Juice and The Cure’s most exhilarating moments. Follow-ups like 2011’s ‘Portamento’ and 2013’s ‘Encyclopedia’ – albums both made as the band were falling apart – proving to be more uneven affairs.
If, like this writer, you were one of those kids mimicking frontman Jonny Pierce’s hypnotic dance moves in a pair of Camden Market-bought Roy Bons, you’d have been pleased to check back in at the band’s last effort, ‘Abysmal Thoughts’, in 2017. It was the first in three years – the longest gap between any Drums record – and the first with just frontman Pierce, with all other original members now in different bands and projects. It was a welcome return to form. Pierce was at his most frank and open with his songwriting, while the hallmarks of early material – mega choruses and twee guitars – were present when necessary, but absent enough to ensure this was no nostalgia trip.
‘Brutalism’, then, is similar in its mission. It takes The Drums’ name further away from the whimsical indie-pop of their early releases, and builds on Pierce’s experimental side, while retaining the knack for a wicked melody. ‘Pretty Cloud’, full of yearning lyrics, utilises electro-pop stylings while ‘Body Chemistry’, the album’s most enticing song, is full of Pierce’s awareness that other people are not always the escape we need: “I know some good luck and a good fuck / A nice glass of wine and some quality time will make you mine/ But that’s not what I’m trying to find”). ‘626 Bedford Avenue’, meanwhile, is the reverse – Pierce sings of submitting to lust, but with pangs of regret: “I regret that night of kissing you / I should have left when / You laughed at my shoes“). The crisp, joyous production sounds less hung up.
Pierce’s creative and personal rebirth are evident throughout, but a return to the trappings of earlier records makes for a relatively limp second half. ‘I Wanna Go Back’ and ‘Nervous’, for example, lack the momentum and wit of the first half – a tricky prospect on an album that clocks in at 9-songs and under 35-minutes.
Overall, though, The Drums sound closer to what Pierce had envisioned all those years ago. The songs zip by flashier than before and the diversity of sounds on ‘Brutalism’ is thoroughly enjoyable. A welcome return from a band, and artist, who always had more to give and more ground to cover – and hearing him deliver on it is a joy to behold.