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The Drums – ‘Brutalism’ review

The Drums' – okay, sole remaining member Jonny Pierce – latest record outdoes expectations, swapping indie-pop for welcome experimentalism

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.

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‘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.

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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.

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Details

  • Release Date: April 5, 2019
  • Record Label: ANTI

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