(Editor’s note: please welcome our first contributing writer, Jeff Nelson.)
The Drums certainly aren’t one of the most innovative recent bands out there, drawing noticeable influences from Joy Division, The Smiths, and The Beach Boys, but their brand of catchy, depressing-yet-somehow-still-upbeat surfer rock is still undoubtedly worth your time. Portamento follows the group’s 2010 eponymous debut, and brings with it a number of noticeable improvements from that album. Most appreciated is the improvement in Jonathan Pierce’s singing. Not to take anything away from his singing in the past, which was great, but his voice just seems to have a lot more emotion and variety to it this time around. Portamento is also noticeably less upbeat and poppy than last year’s album, in the way caffeine is a less upbeat drug than cocaine; Portamento is still a really happy sounding album, and most of the songs are guaranteed to get stuck in your head and have you whistling them days later. There are songs on this album that will occasionally use synths to create a darker, more forboding atmosphere, but Portamento does a good job scattering them among the poppy songs on album so as to not bring the mood of the entire album down. The songs on this album do a good job of creating distinct personalities for themselves; one of my biggest complaints about The Drums was that the jangly, surfer-pop guitars used song after song eventually made some of the songs blur together. I had no such problem with this album, as I think the group really made an effort to branch out and diversify their sound, and it shows. Don’t get me wrong, this is still indie surfer rock at its finest, but with a few surprises thrown in to keep things from getting stale. My only complaint with the album comes from a few songs that I didn’t think were up to par with the rest of the album; a few songs dragged on and never really went anywhere interesting like the rest of the album did for me. Still, this doesn’t stop Portamento from being one of my favorite releases of the year so far.