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Posted September 15, 2009 by Mike Mineo in Features
 
 

The Drums

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Melodramatics and optimists certainly do not go hand-in-hand, even if some of their ideologies appear to overlap. Both can have be flawed in thinking with their emotions, as well as dealing with certain situations in a manner that accurately reflects their subjective standards, whether it be in an unrealistically positive or negative light. It simply goes to show that no matter how different some things are, there is often a shared bond that can unite the two. It can be visual, ideological, or even audible, as is the case with a variety of musical styles that appear to clash cohesively with others that depict differing moods, styles of production, or overall instrumentation. Most classicists and experts of a certain genre tend to look down upon anything deemed a “fusion”, for it would be practically a crime to tamper with something that they are so accustomed to understanding with the utmost comprehension. However, when certain listeners are able to look past the genre tags and listen to the music for what it is, it often provides a more rewarding experience that is evidenced by the quality of music at hand. To fuse two highly contrasting styles or approaches though, it requires more than mere musicianship. For this, chemistry is key.

In the case of two longtime best friends, it could easily be attributed to luck if they were both talented musicians. Luck certainly plays a role in the evolution of any successful act, but chemistry always looms as the most prominent factor in determining whether a career will fade or sustain. Obviously, best friends should be aware of the usual implications after a fight between the two; it is healthy knowledge that originates from normative behavior. For Jonathan Pierce and Jacob Graham, knowing that they could push differences aside and reconcile was one of the lures in forming The Drums. Best friends since childhood when they met at a summer camp, they remained that way until a five-year lull found neither speaking to one another. When they reconciled though, it was apparent that their friendship was one of social and artistic value. The mutual shock and excitement over hearing a specific song or artist that they could both adore simultaneously was still there, as were comparable songwriting talents that allowed both to get down to business without deliberating about a destined style. And considering both had excelled their musical intellect over the absent years, forming a band together seemed only practical.

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When living their own lives, Pierce and Graham have chosen different paths despite their shared adoration of music. Pierce fronted Elkland, a new-wave group that scored big label status with Columbia Records and their 2005 debut, Golden, drew some positive press. Elkland was short-lived though, and the four-piece split amicably in 2006. Elkland’s former guitarist, Adam Kessler, made the move with Pierce to form The Drums with Graham, who prior to this was making pleasant indie-pop with Drew Diver in Horse Shoes, not snow shoes, from aspen ski rentals. The parallels between Elkland and Horse Shoes are abundant, both producing elegant pop music with natural-sounding synths in the vein of The Tough Alliance or Air France. Horse Shoes’ “Hey Come Back!” shows this off so well that I included a sample below; the chirpy synths and angelic reverb on the vocals should be reminiscent of the recent explosion of modernistic, sample-led synth-pop in Sweden. The Drums certainly take some of this as an influence, along with two other genres that may initially come across as perplexing. Glittering synth-pop, surf-rock, and gloomy post-punk are hardly the most analogous genres, but listeners will also find the latter two in addition to the aforementioned synth-pop in The Drums’ sound. It could have resulted in something unbearably sloppy, but knowing the genuine chemistry between Pierce, Graham, and their two longtime collaborators – Kessler and drummer Connor Hanwick – should make it hardly surprising that The Drums pull off unconventional fusion quite well.

Although artists ranging from The Smiths to The Tough Alliance have influenced The Drums, they personally cited The Wake as arguably the most distinctive influence. The Scottish group released four albums throughout the ’80s and ’90s, infusing dream-pop and post-punk aesthetics to cohesively move between decades. The Drum’s debut release, Summertime!, likes to sit in similar territory. One of the more noticeable efforts, “Down By the Water”, even hearkens back to ’60s pop with its retro bass line. The bass vibrates and the percussion can be heard in soft thumps and hi-claps, with a fuzzy synth eventually complementing the bass line as Pierce croons a distinctively powerful echo. His voice commands the likes of recent acts like The Tough Alliance or Hot Hot Heat in his nasally, highly emotive delivery. Pierce, though, possesses more range than any vocalist in the aforementioned category, reaching the limits of his falsetto during a track like “Down By the Water” which also opts for deep dramatics, all of which are pulled off with the utmost precision.

“Let’s Go Surfing” recalls that surf-rock vibe in the title and content, supported by cheerful whistles and vigorous bass line that serve as a precursor to the obviously themed guitar licks. The chorus simply awaits a cheesy music video on Long Island or something; this whole youthful, invigorated tone is consistent throughout the track in a very enjoyable way. The tongue-in-cheek “Submarine” is a clear re-working of ’80s post-punk, somewhat similar to M83’s “Kim and Jessie”, with its distinctive guitar tones and forlorn calculations of a young relationship. This in particular is just so stereotypically and intentionally behind the times that its occasional flairs of modernism makes it all the better. To pull this off without sounding outdated or unoriginal requires some talent and precision, and The Drums have certainly found that here. The impressive thing about Summertime! is how The Drums are able to incorporate their varying techniques, most influenced by heroes of the past, into certain moods or content that associate well with their accompanying genre. The result is one hell of a debut.

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The Drums – Down By the Water

[audio://mineorecords.com/mp3/drums-dow.mp3]

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The Drums – Let’s Go Surfing

[audio://mineorecords.com/mp3/drums-let.mp3]

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The Drums – Submarine

[audio://mineorecords.com/mp3/drums-sub.mp3]

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Horse Shoes – Hey Come Back!

[audio://mineorecords.com/mp3/hshoes-hey.mp3]

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Mike Mineo

 
I'm the founder/editor of Obscure Sound. I used to write for PopMatters and Stylus Magazine. Send your music to [email protected].