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The Drums - Brutalism (Album Review)

Monday, 08 April 2019 Written by Jacob Brookman

Photo: Nicholas Moore

To recap, the Drums are now the solo project of frontman Jonny Pierce following the exit of Jacob Graham before the release of their previous album—2017’s excellent ‘Abysmal Thoughts’. As such ‘Brutalism’ is essentially the work of a solo artist, and has the increased emotional proximity one might expect from that setup.

Strangely, though, it manages to channel the band’s original sound better than their previous three albums. That sound is West Coast surf-rock fed through New York intellectualism, and it suits the occasionally introverted writing of Pierce particularly well here. ‘Brutalism’ is an album with rich joie de vivre despite frequent forays into deep darkness and mental fragility.

The LP's second song, Body Chemistry, is a catchy toe-tapper that uses synth drums and spiky clean guitar riffage to build a boisterous camp jive.

As is the zeitgeist, the song’s production is all ‘90s Fila trainers and high saturation music videos, and the lyrics have gloriously catchy candour: “I need some good luck / And a good fuck / A nice glass of wine / And some quality time.” Elsewhere, tracks like 626 Bedford Avenue dance on the edge of navel-gazing nostalgia while managing to retain a chunky and urbane indie-pop sensibility.

Pierce has gone through a divorce over the past couple of years, and the album feels like a form of therapy for him, with lyrics that pop and explode and disappear. It actually recalls some of the earlier work of Julian Casablancas— we are getting the view of a man who cannot escape the party-going lifestyle he has created for himself.

The Drums still struggle with ballads, though, and I Wanna Go Back is representative of these issues. It’s an epic indie track with languorous vocal phrasing and crunchy guitars, but the melodies are just not interesting enough. Perhaps, because Pierce’s songwriting is so tuneful in the first place, it is better suited to songs where the rhythm can undercut the nursery rhyme quality in his vocal writing.

Immediately after, for example, we have the superb Kiss It Away and closer Blip of Joy. These are songs that master the essential Drums sound—floating tonality with didactic indie-punk rhythms—and it remains fresh nearly a decade after it debuted.

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