Photo: Nicholas Moore / Grandstand Media

Love and Sadness on the Dancefloor: The Drums Return with ‘Brutalism’

On Brutalism, the Drums practice a form of indie pop therapy that's rich in musical textures and lyrical depth.

The Drums
5 April 2019

It’s deceiving to refer to the Drums as a “band”. The Brooklyn-based group began life as a four-piece and released their self-titled debut album in 2010. But by the time of their fourth full-length album, Abysmal Thoughts in 2017, they had dwindled down to one member, vocalist Jonny Pierce. Now, with the fifth Drums album, Brutalism, Pierce continues his literal solo journey.

He may be by himself, but Pierce has plenty of material with which to create his art. Written and recorded on both coasts – in upstate New York as well as a studio in Stinson Beach, California – Brutalism was borne out of a painful divorce and a difficult solo living situation in Los Angeles. The album is, in a way, a form of therapy. Focusing on his mental health, Pierce ends up with a deeply felt, lyrically dense album.

The rich synthpop of Brutalism creates a catchy, instantly lovable sheen to some of Pierce’s best songs to date, including the self-care anthem “Body Chemistry”. Over a 1980s indie dance beat and funky slap bass, Pierce sings of the simple things that make the days easier: “I need some good luck / And a good fuck / A nice glass of wine / And some quality time.” On the single “626 Bedford Avenue”, Pierce recalls a doomed romance and faces it head on. “626 Bedford Avenue / I think I regret that night of kissing you / I fell in love and you treat me like shit / But I keep on coming back.” Haven’t we all been there?

The brutalism of the title, in fact, can refer to romance. On the robotic, propulsive title track, Pierce sings “Baby by now you must know / That this love is brutal / Beyond physical, supernatural / And fully irrational.” As always, the music provides a breezy, retro counterpoint to the pain Pierce feels inside. It’s the equivalent of dancing your cares away with tears of heartbreak flooding your eyes. On the spirited, guitar-driven “Loner”, Pierce confronts his fear of loneliness with a mixture of optimism and persistence. “I am too afraid so I keep moving through the world,” he sings in the song’s infectious chorus.

As you’ve probably guessed by the preponderance of lyric quoting here, this is a wordsmith’s album, and while the music is chock-full of killer hooks and danceable beats, Brutalism is loaded with a truckload of venting and taking stock. On one of the album’s lone ballads, “Nervous”, Pierce frames a breakup in the rich vernacular of a short story writer: “Two nights ago we said goodbye,” he croons over gentle acoustic guitar, “In a borrowed car in the Hollywood Hills / I held you but I should’ve held you tighter and longer.” The carefully arranged majesty of the arrangements, coupled with such instantly relatable lyrics, provides a unique end result.

Brutalism is a gorgeous album that provides both joyous peaks and heartbreaking lows, and the common thread running through the album is an appreciation of the good times and acceptance of the bad times. It’s a realistic album and one that should be celebrated for its uniqueness and its ability to move the listener either to the dancefloor or to the bar to commiserate over breakups.

RATING 8 / 10