By Nicola Roy (@circaslaves)
What was once a four-piece surf-rock outfit from New York, is now essentially a solo project from front-man Jonny Pierce – although what it lacks in former members, it more than makes up for in raw and gritty song-writing talent. Abysmal Thoughts is the fourth studio album from The Drums, the follow-up to Encyclopedia of 2014. To many people, mention of The Drums brings to mind nostalgic summer staple tracks such as Let’s Go Surfing, which raises the question- why would fans of those kind of feel-good vibes want to approach an album with such a name as Abysmal Thoughts? The trick is to not let the title put you off: yes, the songwriting in this album covers many difficult topics such as sexuality and despair, but with a quirky edge similar to that of Joy Division and The Smiths, it’s not only easy to listen to but extremely thought-provoking as well.
Opening track Mirror is smooth and echoey to start with, but after the chorus kicks in (accompanied by ethereal female backing vocals), a steady-building drum beat builds up and leads to a manic drop with synths flying around in the background. Ending as minimalistic as it began, the final synths blend in seamlessly with the following track, I’ll Fight For Your Life – an upbeat track with lyrics that illustrate the carefree and reckless side of love: ‘We barely made it out alive / and now we’re on a train tonight / a different city, a different life / will it ever feel right?‘
However, not every track about love is an uplifting one. Head of the Horse is arguably one of the most poignant and memorable tracks on the album, as it is here that Pierce tells the story of his difficulties growing up gay, which, with pastors for parents, was obviously not the easiest. Although it has a chilled-out beat and smooth falsetto vocals, lyrically it’s heartbreaking: ‘Your sister got married fourteen times / But if you fall in love, son; that’s a crime / Well, I fell in love and told him I was happy / My dad hugged me and said this would be the last hug‘. It’s difficult to turn such a sad topic into a happy-sounding song, but Pierce has the ability to turn previous pain into something meaningful and great.
More highlights of this album include Blood Under My Belt, the lead single- at first listen, clear Joy Division influences can be heard, especially with a beat almost identical to Disorder. This, combined with short and desperate lyrics about death and love, makes it also comparable to the likes of The Smiths, but with The Drums’ own breezy spin put on it. Pierce’s signature falsetto vocals in Heart Basel are also reminiscent of Morrissey’s, and his style of telling tales of heartbreak layered over an otherwise happy-sounding track is extremely clever and makes each listen different to the last.
Although this album was mainly based off unfortunate events, The Drums has crafted a well-put-together collection of stories: granted, not all of them happy, but this will make for a perfect summer album nonetheless.