Before we begin this review, I feel inclined to mention that I’m really not a fan of the whole fuzzed-out, lo-fi, unbelievably stoned beach pop thing that’s going on right now. For me, “buzz bands” rarely ever live up to the ridiculous amounts of hype they’re able to generate thanks to the miracle of the internet, but the bands in this awful, mutant genre are some of the worst offenders I’ve heard cheap dab recyclers in a long time. I mean, there were at least a few albums I enjoyed from the psych-folk craze – the hipster’s genre of choice before Wavves rocketed into the blog-o-sphere with the intensity of a thousand bong rips. This is why I immediately assumed I would hate The Drums’ self-titled, debut LP. I felt obligated to listen, however, as I am a fan of lead singer Jonathan Pierce’s previous band, a short-lived and very under-appreciated synth-pop group called Elkland. The Drums have been lumped in with the beach pop brat pack, though it turns out that Mr. Pierce and company aren’t fans of it, either. They’ve stated in interviews that they don’t consider themselves a part of that scene and would, in fact, like to distance The Drums from it. Of course, calling your first single ‘Go Surfing’ and shooting it’s accompanying video entirely on the beach is a strange way of doing so. Still, I gave The Drums a chance and quickly realized that they have been mislabeled.
Much like on Elkland’s one and only LP, Golden, The Drums have written an album-length love letter to the 80s. Elkland was a tribute to bright and bouncy synth-pop acts like Erasure and OMD, and while they’ve retained a lot of that sound with The Drums, you can now clearly hear the dark and romantic influence of another 80s group – The Smiths. This is most apparent right out of the gate as Jonathan Pierce does his best Morrisey impression while singing the first line of the first song, “Best Friend.” “You’re my best friend, but then you died,” he laments as guitarist Jacob Graham plays a riff you’d swear he lifted from Johnny Marr. Everything about this song – the lyrics, the melody and the music – almost seems like a parody of The Smiths. Thankfully this isn’t the case throughout the whole album. There isn’t a single original idea to be found, of course, but you get the impression that originality isn’t something The Drums are really going for. Again, this is a love letter. The Drums absolutely adore the music of the 80s and while it makes for a completely unoriginal album, it does give them the ability to sound like one of the most authentic of the bands that have participated in the new wave revival over the last 10 years.
My biggest problem with The Drums and frontman Jonathan Pierce, especially, isn’t the fact that he tends to be a tad too derivative, it’s that everything he’s doing on this album he did so much better with Elkland. The Drums major downfall is a trapping they share with those pesky beach pop bands that Jonathan and I dislike so much. Their music is lo-fi simply for the sake of being lo-fi. For some bands, a lo-fi sound is appropriate and almost necessary to make the music work.
Pavement just wouldn’t have been the same if they applied overblown production techniques and flawless arrangements to their recordings. Could you imagine if Stephen Malkmus used auto-tune? But Pavement managed to create their own brand of sloppy, college rock that was also just plain good and didn’t need slick studio tricks to help them establish their band as one of the most influential in rock history. The Drums are too influenced by others to be influential themselves. The Elkland record was really over the top. The songs contained the same huge, sing-along choruses that Pierce maintains in The Drums but they were supported by lush arrangements and the music was produced and engineered without sparing a single resource. He seems to have lost this sense of craftsmanship, however, and his songs fall flat without it.