The Drums aren’t the Drums. Well, that’s a little dramatic, but there have been some changes since their last release, 2014’s Enclyclopedia. Most importantly, the band is essentially a solo act now, with Jonny Pierce taking over all the writing duties. This change allowed Pierce to take complete control, to create an album closer to his heart, and the result is emotionally powerful, disarming in its honesty, and unexpectedly fun. “Abysmal Thoughts” is a successful step into new territory for the Drums.
To begin with, the sound of the album is not a dramatic shift from prior albums. The rubbery guitar parts and airy vocals are still here. The sticky melodies are still hanging around. The Drums still sound like the Drums, but a little more precise. The last release Encyclopedia was an attempt at adding a sheen to the sound, and although pleasant in places, it seemed to show a band struggling to find an identity. With the departure of longtime member Jacob Graham, Pierce hunkered into his home studio and made an album without outside opinion. The result is largely a return to the simple sounds and constructions of their sophomore release, Portamento.
The freshness is from the lyrical approach that Pierce has taken on “Abysmal Thoughts”. He speaks of all the heavy things in life, refusing to hide it anymore. He takes the blame. He laments his losses. Overall, it’s a fairly sad album lyrically, and that’s the point. The album was therapy for Pierce, a way to get it all out. The album begins with “Mirror”, and in the chorus, Pierce states, “I looked in the mirror / I asked myself who are you now?” It’s a set-up for a self-exploration, and that’s what we get. “Head of the Horse” details the sadness of not being accepted for who you are, “Heart Basel” is about a dissolving relationship, and “Blood Under My Belt” is about accepting your past mistakes. Most importantly, all of this is an autobiography, and because of this, the emotion rings true.
If there is a knock on the album, it’s that it’s a little heavy for all occasions. When the weather is perfect and I have the windows down cruising by the river, a melancholy song like “Head of the Horse” doesn’t exactly hit the spot. Moreover, songs like “Shoot the Sun Down” and “If All We Share (Means Nothing)” are so insular and intimate, they are almost uncomfortable. Interestingly though, some of these songs are so strong they can overcome their dour contents through sheer power of melody. A song like “Under the Ice” is so depressing on paper, but quite pleasant on the stereo. This only speaks to the strength of Pierce as a songwriter: he can turn sad into sugar.
The final track, “Abysmal Thoughts”, is the ultimate illustration of the power of the album. The songs comes in loud. There’s a high pitched voice saying “beep, beep”. There’s a whistle. Then Pierce comes in sounding like David Bowie on “Heroes” singing lyrics like “Oh, abysmal thoughts pushing me down to the ground” and “All I wanted to do was love you / How could you do this to me?” With such lyrics, we should be crying, but we’re not. We’re singing along as loud as we can. Pierce has tapped into something here, and he’s made a triumphant bummer of a record.