Album Review: The Drums ‘Encyclopedia’
Words by Kathleen Warren - Published on September 30, 2014
Jump in, losers, we’re going to Brooklyn. The story starts with me at an empty lot, Williamsburg bridge behind me and a flurry of curse words on my lips as my sense of direction steers me wrong yet again. Coffee shop, warehouse, cool place that could be a coffee shop or a warehouse. I see what I think must be the crowd I’m looking for, but it’s Americans lining up for Toby’s Estate. A girl wearing clear plastic overalls skateboards past. Williamsburg continues to live up to every expectation.
I find the place, and so begins the swoon. It is a two floor record store with friendly, over-pierced staff and the kind of perfected collection that more effectively takes your money than any credit card commercial. I whittle my excitement down to three new records, but there is one that is truly essential – The Drums’ third full length album, ‘Encyclopedia’.
Jonny Pierce and Jacob Graham have had what I’m sure will be one of the bleaker chapters in the bands biography. In a recent interview Jonny spoke of ‘completely clos[ing] the door’ on his religious biological family this past year. From a quartet the band is reduced to the original duo, Jonny and Jacob, after internal hostility and industry fatigue. The band took a break and Jonny recorded as a solo artist, but from the brink of dissolution The Drums returned. ‘Encyclopedia’ is a product of these trying times. “We were feeling very angry, confused, and alone when we made this album, and we wanted to be very honest this time around, even if being honest meant making some people uncomfortable,” said Jonny. “We’ve left the beach for higher ground, always searching for hope.”
No doubt, a lot of that anger and confusion has seeped into the record. Caution has gone out the window and for their third, Jonny and Jacob have purposefully and determinedly (Jonny once said he’d rather eat glass than ‘jam’) produced an album for the beautiful outsiders, the losers, the angry lost souls. ‘Encyclopedia’ is feverish, chaotic, contradictory and at times, utterly despondant. Jonny Pierce and Jacob Graham have recorded all your unspeakable, unknowable, inarticulate anger with the world and thrust it back at you in this punchy, melancholic third album. What happened to wanting to go surfing with the jaunty whistling? Nope, The Drums have moved on. Magic Mountain, the first single and opening track, smacks you in the face with its whirlwind of tinny brash sound.Now they want to throw things off ledges and go to the magic mountain where “I don’t have to be with them.” The next track, I Can’t Pretend, is a softer sound with percussive, metallic synth and slower, smoother vocals that will still rip a hole in your heart. The emotion doesn’t stop as Jonny croons “I never thought I’d want to die” to the contrasting guitar picking of I Hope Time Doesn’t Change Him, one of the less synth-heavy tracks of the album. Yikes.
Kiss Me Again is going to be one of those classic Drums tracks, a quick step foot shuffler with fun singalong riffs. It is the first from ‘Encyclopedia’ that sounds like it could have been from an earlier release. It is also the first on the album that doesn’t explicitly mention abandoning society or human relationships in the lyrics – so, bonus. Not for long though – The Drums have always been known for their ability to blend sad lyrics with pop sound, but some of ‘Encyclopedia’ is downright despairing. Let Me is frenetic, with racing guitars and a bellowing chorus of “They might hate you but I love you and they can go kill themselves.” Bell Labs is full of jarring, trickling synth that slows down the panic while also maintaining the sense of off kilter melancholy. Towards the end of the album, There is Nothing Left is an up-swing of tempo and is one of the stand out tracks of the album as the song strips back to let Jonny’s voice shine over the clangy pop guitar sound we associate with The Drums. My favourite of the album is the closer, Wild Geese, a change from what we’ve heard so far with a stellar synth focus and misty wailing, the vocals filled with tremulous sadness but also raw clarity. It’s as if we’ve heard the chaos and contradiction of Jonny and Jacob’s rage, they’ve shaken us and pelted us with seething, frenzied frustration and now, exhausted, they’re in the calm after the storm.
Back in the record store, double doors have opened to reveal a hidden stage and bar that quickly fills with local natives keen to see Jonny and Jacob back on their home turf. The boys step out, the crowd erupts, and a shiver of relief passes over Jonny as the band sets up and he acknowledges this small crowd of die harders who found this concert in the back of a record store on a Sunday afternoon. He rubs his head and sighs with a big smile. “We’ve been so scared about releasing this album, so thank you! Thank you. We need this right now.”
‘Encyclopedia’ is out now.