Music

The Drums: Portamento

Matt James

The Drums are still wild at heart, but newly weird on top.


The Drums

Portamento

US Release Date: 2011-09-13
UK Release Date: 2011-09-05
Website
Amazon
iTunes
"And I can never go home anymore. And that's called 'sad'."

-- The Shangri-Las

I gotta say the Drums' debut was a bit of a lifesaver. Its mix of infectious melody, heartfelt wonder, childlike loneliness, witty lyricisms, and naïve romance saw me through many a mess o' blues. On first listen Portamento, in all honesty, felt comparatively flat, a frantic panic of ideas, sounds and moods. Many hours on the psychiatrist's couch and several listens later though it started to click, choruses bloomed, toes were tapped, hearts melted and -- yay! -- new saviours emerged from the fog. On every level, Portamento is a more complex, creative, and ultimately unusual record than its predecessor. Following a "build 'em up, knock 'em down" rites of passage lashing from the perverse UK press and the sudden exit of one of their gang, this is the sound of a band going all-in and the result is by turns heroic, admirable and strange, but never less than intriguing.

"Oh let it begin, let it begin," decrees lead Drum Jonathan Pierce. Rather comfortably, the first half of Portamento pretty much flows seamlessly on from the debut and finds things business as usual at Chez Drum. Basically, classy, sassy pop bangers, one after another. "Book of Revelations" recites all the Drums' commandments -- bass heavy, shuffling skiffle rhythms with a catchy-as-hell chorus the height 'n' width of a skyscraper. "I've seen the world and there's no heaven and no hell," declares Pierce, kicking over the pearly gates like some lapsed preacher from a Flannery O'Connor tale. "I believe that when we die, we die, so let me love you tonight." Hallelujah, joyful and triumphant! Heaven can't wait!

Future enormo-anthems are tossed off with such giddy abandon it's as if the Drums could do this imperial pop malarkey blindfold. Super-fast Strokes-alike single "Money" promptly offers the album's most sing-a-long moment: "Before we die, I'd like to do something nice / I'd like to buy you something, but I don't have any mo-neey." A tale of street-urchin lovers pressing their grubby faces against the windows of the Mansion on the Hill. It's the Drums showboating and it's hard to suppress a girlish Beatlemania-style shriek of approval. Almost as euphoric is "What You Were", a latchkey cousin of Bowie's "Modern Love", which packs a punchy, bouncy, coolly high hip 'n' danceable and a surprising, smooth 'n' funky sax riff amid harmonies to die for.

There's still plenty of the whip-smart, witty wordplay that originally made 'em leader of the pack. "Hard to Love" is a real charmer and rides Two-Tone Ska rhythms over what could only truly be described as gurgly space bass. "I would never hate you / But you're hard to love," winks Pierce. Dancing away the heartache is still an option then? The toppermost highlight though is "Days", full of brooding glances, ripped Levis, trashville beatbox on the sidewalk, sad spiraling minor chords, killer bass, and stray cat harmonies. The lyric "Days go by and I never needed you" encapsulates the album's theme of unrequited love and bickerin' broken-hearted emptiness perfectly. "You broke my bones and I sold my soul," its narrator says, kidding no one they can make it solo. It bottles that desperate longing ache the Drums excel at and will be, furthermore, officially compulsory for dancing in the dark under a blue moon. The Happy Days fade to black begins with the lush, passionate "I Don't Know How to Love". When Pierce wonders, "Why don't you love me anymore? / I simply don't understand," he's no longer just lonely, but now eternally lonesome. It all ends with a sweep of melodramatic grandeur and a sad signal to pack away the sun...

"The things I used to feel, I don't feel anymore," Pierce sings on "Searching For Heaven", a turning point into uneasy listening, a step to the dark side. We're not in Kansas anymore. In a heartbeat, night has fallen and the moonlit air drawn chilly. Over ominous ambient synths, Pierce's slurred, broken vocal -- "Will we dream again?" -- feels like a suicidal SOS beamed back from space. The four songs that follow are similarly disconnected, disconcerting. The Joy Division hypnotics of "Please Don't Leave" sound like someone trying to shake a sobbing, hysterical ex who's clutching their leg whilst yelling "I won't let go!" (We've all been there right?) "If He Likes It Let Him Do It" keeps things moody blue with a muscular robotic pulse, tall shadows and flickers of theremin-style Gothic decoration. A touch of fresh madness swiftly follows with the new dawn rising of "I Need a Doctor". Twitching, carnival hypermania juxtapose some of Pierce's most oddly acidic lyrics yet: "You know I love you / But I wanna kill you." The longest winter though is the "straitjacket, size medium, pronto" shiver of "In the Cold", where Pierce sings, "I just sit there in the cold / I know I won't see you again." It's end-of-days melancholia and you'll feel there's a tiny, frosty ghost weeping in your stereo. The fact that it's swiftly carried off stage by the hyper pretty, romantico finale "How It Ended" ("The Girl from Ipanema" complete with grass skirts 'n' garlands) and you will be left open jawed by the wildly strange ride that is Portamento.

Although the end result isn't quite as exquisitely perfect as their debut, the Drums remain a rich, sincere, emotional and admirably contrary oddity. Portamento will charm you, hug you, haunt you and yes, sometimes baffle you whilst offering further proof that they are a more fascinating proposition than many give them credit for. It's also laced with such death, rejection, and the fade of hope that it feels like the middle segment of some tragic operatic trilogy. "Do you think Jesus loves me? Can I go home again?," they pondered wistfully at the end of their debut. Now as they stride tearfully, but with spirit unbroken, into uncharted waters, it would seem the Drums have their answers.

7

Cover down, pray through: Bob Dylan's underrated, misunderstood "gospel years" are meticulously examined in this welcome new installment of his Bootleg series.

"How long can I listen to the lies of prejudice?
How long can I stay drunk on fear out in the wilderness?"
-- Bob Dylan, "When He Returns," 1979

Bob Dylan's career has been full of unpredictable left turns that have left fans confused, enthralled, enraged – sometimes all at once. At the 1965 Newport Folk Festival – accompanied by a pickup band featuring Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper – he performed his first electric set, upsetting his folk base. His 1970 album Self Portrait is full of jazzy crooning and head-scratching covers. In 1978, his self-directed, four-hour film Renaldo and Clara was released, combining concert footage with surreal, often tedious dramatic scenes. Dylan seemed to thrive on testing the patience of his fans.

Keep reading... Show less
9
TV

Inane Political Discourse, or, Alan Partridge's Parody Politics

Publicity photo of Steve Coogan courtesy of Sky Consumer Comms

That the political class now finds itself relegated to accidental Alan Partridge territory along the with rest of the twits and twats that comprise English popular culture is meaningful, to say the least.

"I evolve, I don't…revolve."
-- Alan Partridge

Alan Partridge began as a gleeful media parody in the early '90s but thanks to Brexit he has evolved into a political one. In print and online, the hopelessly awkward radio DJ from Norwich, England, is used as an emblem for incompetent leadership and code word for inane political discourse.

Keep reading... Show less

The show is called Crazy Ex-Girlfriend largely because it spends time dismantling the structure that finds it easier to write women off as "crazy" than to offer them help or understanding.

In the latest episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, the CW networks' highly acclaimed musical drama, the shows protagonist, Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom), is at an all time low. Within the course of five episodes she has been left at the altar, cruelly lashed out at her friends, abandoned a promising new relationship, walked out of her job, had her murky mental health history exposed, slept with her ex boyfriend's ill father, and been forced to retreat to her notoriously prickly mother's (Tovah Feldshuh) uncaring guardianship. It's to the show's credit that none of this feels remotely ridiculous or emotionally manipulative.

Keep reading... Show less
9

If space is time—and space is literally time in the comics form—the world of the novel is a temporal cage. Manuele Fior pushes at the formal qualities of that cage to tell his story.

Manuele Fior's 5,000 Km Per Second was originally published in 2009 and, after winning the Angouléme and Lucca comics festivals awards in 2010 and 2011, was translated and published in English for the first time in 2016. As suggested by its title, the graphic novel explores the effects of distance across continents and decades. Its love triangle begins when the teenaged Piero and his best friend Nicola ogle Lucia as she moves into an apartment across the street and concludes 20 estranged years later on that same street. The intervening years include multiple heartbreaks and the one second phone delay Lucia in Norway and Piero in Egypt experience as they speak while 5,000 kilometers apart.

Keep reading... Show less
7

Featuring a shining collaboration with Terry Riley, the Del Sol String Quartet have produced an excellent new music recording during their 25 years as an ensemble.

Dark Queen Mantra, both the composition and the album itself, represent a collaboration between the Del Sol String Quartet and legendary composer Terry Riley. Now in their 25th year, Del Sol have consistently championed modern music through their extensive recordings (11 to date), community and educational outreach efforts, and performances stretching from concert halls and the Library of Congress to San Francisco dance clubs. Riley, a defining figure of minimalist music, has continually infused his compositions with elements of jazz and traditional Indian elements such as raga melodies and rhythms. Featuring two contributions from Riley, as well as one from former Riley collaborator Stefano Scodanibbio, Dark Queen Mantra continues Del Sol's objective of exploring new avenues for the string quartet format.

Keep reading... Show less
9
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image