Music Reviews

The Drums Portamento

(Moshi Moshi) Buy it from Insound Rating - 4/10

At first glance, there is a laughably deadpan irony about The Drums, particularly in Jonathan Pierce’s schizophrenic stage persona.  Stumbling between yelps of woe-is-me agony and a wide-eyed “I don’t give a shit about your indie hype” stare, one is unsure of whether Jonathan Pierce is ecstatically living up to his daydreams of fronting The Smiths or completely apathetic with the success The Drums have gained.  Nevertheless, The Drums made quite a splash a little over a year ago with the release of their self-titled debut.  One assumed that their aesthetic would fade with the novelty of 2009’s debut single Let’s Go Surfing; instead, The Drums produced an album that surpassed that song by incorporating a deceptively simple naiveté into some truly heartfelt songs of yearning.   Less than fifteen months later, they come back with Portamento, an affair that furthers Pierce’s obsession with death, longing, and heartbreak.

Book of Revelation opens the album with Pierce’s anti-religious mantra, “I’ve seen the world, and there’s no heaven and there’s no hell” - a line so outright that it seems fit to open Meat is Murder.  This song is more than just a promising start to Portamento, it is some of the best work from The Drums.  Days follows in excellent form, bringing the sorrowful harmonies from that gave Book of Stories its Heaven Knows I’m Miserable charm.  So we have Pierce at a loss for religion, at loss for love, and, as the tragicomedy single exemplifies, a loss for Money.  Here Pierce’s lyrics fall short of being relatable, as he sings in a stupid, self-pitying whine, “I want to buy you something, but I don’t have any money.”  With this side of Pierce flailing about, I’m at a loss for interest.

What is troubling about this album is the lacking expanse that made their debut such an in-depth experience of whimsical naiveté.  For every line of tragedy, there was an equal antithesis feeding irony to The Drums’s sound.  Portamento begins with a promising sign that The Drums have avoided the dreaded sophomore slump, but with time, reveals that even Pierce’s pseudo apathy is the disguise of someone who simply cares too much.  Searching for Heaven is so laughably trite in its seriousness that I can’t imagine to whom Pierce imagined it would come off as profound. 

If The Drums were simply ready to accept what made their first album so successful, that they made songs of misery and regret into enticing pop songs, perhaps Portamento wouldn’t be such a flop.  Or, perhaps The Drums are doomed to a curse of a short attention span.  Portamento might have been a worthwhile EP if it were just the first 5 songs, packaged as a neat collection of what the album has to offer.  As an album, it’s probably the dullest anticipation of the year.  Download the first few songs and shelf it and its appallingly bad album art.