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Record Review: The Drums’ Portamento

By / Posted on 14 September 2011

The Drums - PortamentoKnowledgeable hipsters with their fingers on the pulse of the music scene and a gentle enthusiasm for simplistic pop have come to associate summertime with The Drums. Summer 2009 saw the release of their debut Summertime! EP and summer 2010 gave us their self-titled LP. Now, almost two years to the day since the release of Summertime!, The Drums close out another warm and relaxed season of leisure with Portamento.

In music terminology, a portamento refers to the smooth progression from one pitch or tone to another. As this suggests, the song structure formula displayed here is largely unchanged from past efforts. The Drums produce what could easily be straightforward 4/4 dance beats, but they do it with warm, fuzzy instruments and and enough reverb and echo to convince the listener that they are, in fact, a retro-pop band. Jonathan Pierce’s lyrics are still far from revelatory, opting instead to be just simple enough to be sing-alongable and just poetic enough to seem suggestive and deep. The lyrical focus remains sharply pointed at the generally romantic, with a sense that the here-and-now is all that matters in the short scope of human existence. Just as the previous LP opened with “You were my best friend, but then you died when I was twenty-three and you were twenty-five,” Portamento’s opener “Book of Revelation” serenades with a refrain of “I’ve seen the world, and there’s no Heaven and there’s no Hell. And I believe that when we die, we die, so let me love you tonight.”

Where things change, musically, is the greater frequency of synth and dissonance. While the self-titled LP mostly attempted to recreate the sound of surf pop past, Portamento continues chronologically with more mature themes conveyed through sound, like the worried whines in the chorus of “Please Don’t Leave,” the ghostly hums of unrest in “If He Likes It Let Him Do It,” and the minor key melancholy of “In The Cold.” The Drums come closer than ever to resembling Joy Division, but just aren’t gloomy enough yet.

Still so early in their career, it’s hard to imagine an album by The Drums that is anything but fun and poppy, but Portamento attempts to prepare us for when that day comes. Still hooky and light, but with a lingering sense of dread, Portamento is an album full of promise for the future with reverence for its past. Assuming The Drums are able to complete that transition, this will likely be seen as a minor album by the band, but it’s still a fun listen.

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Derrick Sanskrit has produced critically-acclaimed work as an artist and writer for Nerve, Babble, Pitchfork, The Onion and the Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art, among others. He founded The Pop Aesthetic during the coldest months of his life in 2010.