Fans and casual listeners alike have seen a lot from The Drums. Despite an usually high turnover rate, they have remained a pillar in our beloved, contemporary indie era. Since The Drums came out with their first few singles that were instantly pleasing to many a hipster surfer’s ear, they have also been riding down a tumultuous career path. They first set hearts racing by releasing their auspicious self-titled debut album in 2010. Shortly after, guitarist Adam Kessler left the band. In 2011, the band scrambled together to record Portamento, denoting a much more grim outlook on life. Then, like clockwork, drummer Connor Hanwick bowed out gracefully due to “tensions among the group” in 2012. Unannounced tensions apparently ran deeper than everyone thought when co-founding member, Jacob Graham, retired from The Drums in 2017. Through it all, the band had almost entirely departed from their sunnier composition with their third and fourth albums. The year is now 2019 and we have Brutalism, the fifth Drums album, and the second full album Jonny Pierce has managed to crank out as last man on the ship.
Right off the bat, Brutalism gives the notion that it was a passion project for Pierce to both dive into self acceptance as self care, and also completely redefine the band’s signature sound. Pierce unapologetically exposes the inner workings of his mind that have been stifled since he was young lad, and he does so in just nine tracks. At this point, it’s reasonable to assume no Drums supporter has any expectations – high or low – for the records they put out anymore. In fact, Brutalism comes at a time where fans are dumbfounded there is release of a new Drums record at all. What Pierce has composed on this album could be encapsulated by three words: unguarded, dejected, and (somehow) exuberant. Perhaps the most unwavering aspect of Pierce’s work is his aptitude for formulating morose lyrics, and coating them with lighter rhythms. While still maintaining rawness, Brutalism replaces much of the sound that distinguished The Drums in the first place with beats that are somewhat unnecessary.
Formerly a proponent for reverb, Pierce uses an almost entirely electronic foundation, creating quite a pixelated image speckled with metaphors and a petty tone. Opening with “Pretty Cloud”, nothing could be as prominent as Pierce’s high range vocals and the overbearing atmosphere of electronica. Lyrically, even the poetically challenged can figure out that Pierce aimed this at a certain someone, who he misses – a lot. Songs like “I Wanna Go Back”, and the title track follow suit, as Pierce boldly declares his heartbreak and his longing for something that once was. “Nervous” is another version of this outline Brutalism is filled with, but think less 8-bit and more soft harmonies. “626 Bedford Lane” addresses the frustration over wanting more from small intimate occurrences, with a joyful twist thanks to its upbeat rhythm. Closing with “Blip of Joy”, the listener may be pleased with the familiar drum beats and synth vocals that are reminiscent of The Drums’ previous work. It’s relatable, as Pierce reminds us what it’s like to move on, and the excruciating overthinking that ensues.
This album is cold and hard proof that Pierce does not need the manpower of a traditional band to stay relevant. It’s also well known that Jonny Pierce had much to say around the release of Brutalism, and it’s clear he is not afraid to tell the world how he really feels – a concept infamously not well supported as he was growing up. While Brutalism feels personal on some notes and Pierce’s brave openness is appreciated, it’s a highly produced album that potentially underwhelms those listening to it. Catchy hooks and video gamey soundscapes do little justice to Pierce’s genuine composition, but this isn’t the first imperfect record put out by The Drums. Truth be told, the effort made on Pierce’s part to make room for both sweet and sour elements in his music should be celebrated, and honest Drums supporters won’t discount this either. Perhaps the message Pierce is trying to get across is: life hurts, dance anyway.