The Quietus - A new rock music and pop culture website


The Drums
The Drums Ross Pounds , June 7th, 2010 08:20

Travel back more or less exactly a year to the day and the Drums were playing their first ever gig. Half a year before that, the band were just an embryo, an idea in the mind of childhood friends Jonny Pierce and Jacob Graham soon to be hatched, born onto a sceptical landscape where the prospect of another band in thrall to the back catalogues of K, Sarah and Creation would provoke little more than a yawn and an instant dismissal. Now it's the present day. Summer 2010. Pierce and Graham's band, fleshed out by Adam Kessler (guitar) and Connor Hanwick (drums), are one of the most hyped acts on the planet, their debut album one of the most anticipated of the year. They've already graced the cover of the NME twice in the last six months, had Morrissey give the band his tacit blessing by appearing at one of their gigs, and started any number of fashion trends (hello, varsity jackets). It's a meteoric rise stolen from the feverish images of some teen dream or the pen of Cameron Crowe, but is it justified? On the evidence given here, the answer would seem to be, quite emphatically, yes.

It's easy to see why people have already begun to sneer at the band. Their constant exposure is starting to grate, their sound certainly isn't original, and the combination of sharp cheekbones and even sharper hooks has proved to be too much for some. But here's the truth: the Drums are a fantastic pop band and here, on their eponymous debut, they justify their incendiary hype and head for the stars. It's an astounding statement of intent, a debut album so assured and classy and full of pop craft that it sounds like it's taken a decade to make, not less than a year. It's an album flooded with warmth, the product of a genuine love for their influences, a postcard-perfect snapshot of four people coming together at the right time to create something beguiling and rather special.

The band have spoken about aesthetics, about how image is as important to them as sound, and the two harmonise perfectly. In Pierce they have a genuinely gifted frontman, a tightly wound ball of beach-blond hair and cobalt-blue eyes with mannerisms which bring to mind Ian Curtis if he were bought up on the shores of Palm Beach rather the streets of Macclesfield. His lyrics certainly aren't deep, and nor do they pretend to be. But there's something universal about them. These are songs about girls, about cruising in cars, about the images of an American dream imagined but never lived. It's no stretch to imagine them spilling out across festivals and arenas in the next few years, and if they do, then it's fully deserved. For a band so young, they're remarkably competent. Steeped in the history of pop, post-punk and twee, each song unashamedly raises its arms to the sky, ice-cream coated hooks nestling alongside caramel sweet coo's, star-stained twinkles falling on top of guitar lines so strong they could build mountains.

If there's a fault then one could point to the production, so polished here, moving away from the slightly ramshackle set-up that gave their EP and early demos such charm. But it's a minor quibble. It's an album gaudily coated in a luscious pop sheen and all the better for it. Once you've got over the fact that some of the songs (most notably 'Me and the Moon' and 'I'll Never Drop My Sword') sound quite different from earlier versions, you come to realise how right the band were to change them. There's an innate ear for melody so pure on display, emphasised all the more by the Pierce's open admission that they can barely play their instruments ("On the album and the EP it's all one note at a time," he stated in a recent interview, "there are no chords 'cos it's all we know how to do.") If they can conjure songs of such grandeur from a few borrowed notes then subsequent albums should leave jaws fully agape, melodies burned deep into the brain.

The milieu the Drums, all pouts and wind-ruffled hair with the wardrobes of suburban American high school football players from the 50s, (or, as Boy George put it: "They look like four rent boys") pilfer from most is a kind of Americanised version of late 80s English indie, as if New Order signed to Sarah Records or if the Field Mice and the Wake joined forces with a prozac'd Robert Smith handling vocal duties. And they're the first to admit it. There's no reason their magpie-like tendencies should be seen as some kind of ineptitude or as a marker of a lack of originality. What they've done is to take the best bits from their favourite bands and filter them through their own worldview, creating a sound at once reminiscent of a hundred other bands and entirely of their own. Everyone borrows from someone else, and there's nothing wrong with that.

Melding the subtle exuberance of the recent crop of Swedish pop bands (jj, The Tough Alliance) with the winding, prodding, angular guitars of Orange Juice whilst teasing in a few classic 60s soul tropes (the handclaps that lace the album could have been stolen from any number of Shangri-Las songs), the band siphon their influences into giddy three minute gems, Pierce's longing lyrics pouring as much from his pining heart as his mouth ("I know it's hard / But I understand you / Just take my hand" he croons on 'Down By The Water', a knowingly innocent girlband style slowy that should melt even the hardest and most dismissive of hearts). One gets the sense that when The Drums get huge, and they will, it is Pierce who will garner much of the attention. His way with a phrase, a yearning for something unstated formed in half a sentence, of ugly sentiments subtly displaced by a deceptively bouncy melody, is reminiscent of Morrissey's deft touch, a whip smart tongue combined with a rapier wit and the lovelorn romanticism of a young John Keats.

On the likes of 'Forever and Ever Amen', album closer 'The Future' and most obviously on standout track 'Book of Stories' his lyrics bore deep into the heart, universal feelings of love, despair, regret, and redemption summed up in half a line, those deep truths of any relationship covered in the space of a chorus. "I thought my life would get easier/instead it's getting darker/it's getting colder/without you," he croons on the latter, a few lines sentimental on paper but heart-crushingly truthful when sung to the rooftops, the words racing round and round in the mind. It's that old trick: the popstar as everyman, living a life of dreams but one with the same flaws and regrets as the fans he sings to.

Tracks like 'I Felt Stupid' come across crystal clear, like flecks of light twinkling on a distant horizon, invoking images of skinny blonde waifs with hoops spinning round their waists, gazing adoringly as flip-flop, polo shirt clad college boys cruise past on their way down to the sea. Pierce's lyrics ("We can take a walk now/ Down the to beach/ Where we're finally free") conjure up pictures of the final dance of the prom, awkward shuffles and embarrassed clashes of teeth included. If The Drums were a TV show they'd be Happy Days, if they were a film, then American Graffiti: not profound, not pretentious, just a pitch perfect distillation of a few particular moments in pop culture that've never quite disappeared. And yet the sense we get most of all from this is not one of a gimmick but one of a band starting out on a greater road, that torturous journey to the land of fulfilled promise, with its many slips and pitfalls along the way. Pierce's songs appear simple on first listen but give in and go deeper and somewhere in there, amid the Motown harmonics and velvet-coated melodies, you'll find a great songwriter finding his pop feet. It looks like this is just the beginning. And I don't about you, but I'm staying for the ride.