Album review: The Drums – ‘The Drums’ (Moshi Moshi)

If you came looking for sun and surf, prepare to leave with your heart in their hands as they more than clear the hype bar

More than having a statue rendered in your image, your name tattooed across the small of a back or even having Rolf Harris commit your face to canvas, being the subject of a song is the ultimate immortality. Thousands have sought to humiliate former duvet-sharers through song as they exorcise the demons of past relationships, but as a form of vengeance, the break-up song shoots itself in the foot. So flattering is it to find out that you’ve burrowed into someone’s brains deeply enough for them to lash out the passion and creativity needed to birth a song, it doesn’t even matter if said song depicts you as a less appealing lover than your average England and Chelsea left-back. A mighty wave of just such reverse flattery is about to crash over the head of at least one of the people Drums frontman Jonathan Pierce has let deep into his life. And we don’t mean his surfing instructor.

If you were expecting an album based on the breezy, whistly beach-pop of the ubiquitous ‘Let’s Go Surfing’, it will come as a tsunami-sized surprise to hear that the New York four-piece’s debut is, while stuffed with the kind of effortlessly spectacular tunes that marked them out as the great hopes of 2010, packed with tales of cracked hearts and sorrow-trodden lovesickness. While the band made no secret they were set to switch musical seasons following the ‘“Summertime!”’ EP, to hear such sorrow interwoven with some of the biggest, sunniest choruses of the year is still a shock. Almost every song contains a happy-clappy hook and chorus, the band placing so much emphasis on melody that it feels wrong if you’re not in a floppy hat, licking a Solero as you hum along. But lyrically there’s an icy chill from the coldness of a frozen heart that pierces straight through the warm sunshine. It’s this contrast that makes ‘The Drums’ so much more than a simple validation of the hype that has led up to its release, marking the band out as one of those rare groups who can cork loss and joy in one simultaneous, essential package.

The band acknowledged the influence of [a]The Smiths[/a] way before [a]Morrissey[/a] started propping up the bar at their gigs. But while Johnny Marr-derived rinky-dinky guitar riffs are firmly embedded in ‘The Drums’, it’s Pierce’s tearfully outlined yearnings that will leave marks on the listener more durable than the fingerprints on their copies of ‘The Queen Is Dead’. “I thought my life would get easier,” he wails on ‘Book Of Stories’, the album’s greatest song with its echo-laden Beach Boys chorus. “Instead it’s getting harder… instead it’s getting harder”. “Darling you can be so unforgiving, you can be so un-loving,” he croons on the Psychedelic Furs-y ‘Me And The Moon’ (featuring the most Marr-like ding-dong riff)… “but I don’t know how to feel without your love.” Both are subtle summations of heartbreak that hit harder than any glib line about not being able to “liiiiiive, with or withoout you,” or what not.

It’s not all enjoyable relationship-derived misery, mind. There’s ‘Let’s Go Surfing’, of course, and opener ‘Best Friend’, on which Pierce laments the tragedy of a too-young dead buddy, showing another dimension to the band’s mastery of sunny darkness. Then there’s ‘Skippin’ Town’, new wave synth-surf with the kind of needly riff-stabs [a]Franz Ferdinand[/a] formed their debut album from, the subtly filmic pony canter-paced ‘Forever And Ever Amen’ and heartbreak highlight ‘Down By The Water’ – where the closest thing here to a bass riff hauls heartstrings with the arm-force of a troupe of teary-cheeked Spector girl groups. More than anything, the album’s quality is a relief. The Drums have proved that for all the prevalence of glittery synth-carting unicorn-botherers in our times, there’s still a hurricane of heartsore life in guitar pop. So, if you ever broke Jonathan Pierce’s heart, then try not to feel too smug about it. But we probably owe you a drink.

Jamie Fullerton

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