The landscape of The Drums has always been sprinkled with synth riffs, catchy guitar and bass parts, and danceable drum beats. The idols they mimic, The Smiths, Joy Division, and The Wake, are never far from reach. They are so close that in some songs, when there is an instrumental break before the next verse, you'll find yourself expecting to hear Morrisey's or Ian Curtis' voice come in. This is what drew me in to The Drums in the first place. But despite putting in a solid effort with Portamento, The Drums latest doesn't always run toe to toe with their influences.
The tracks of Portamento take on a heavier tone, focusing more on bass hooks and synthesizers to carry the listener through the songs. The guitar work is stripped down and simple, seeming like it is only an auditory accessory added for flavor rather than being the main course, an accoutrement for your ears, if you will. This may have to due with guitarist Adam Kessler leaving the band last year. Sometimes the simplicity works, and other times, it leaves you wanting a little more. Some tracks just feel like they aren't going anywhere and some songs aren't fully fleshed out.
But despite this, a few diamonds in the rough shine through. The first single, "Money," is by far one of the catchiest songs of the album. Singer and possible Cobra Kai member Jonathan Pierce discusses wanting to treat people to the finer things in life but unfortunately being without proper assets. Elsewhere on the album his lyrics are not as light-hearted. In the album opener, "Book of Revelation," Pierce talks life, death, and religion and makes them sound just as cheerful as you imagine a heavily New Wave influenced band would. "I've seen the world / and there is no heaven and there is no hell / and I believe that when we die, we die." It's not the happiest song in the world, but toe-tapping beats and Pierce's high pitched croon make it work.
Portamento, an Italian word that signifies transition, is an apt title for the album and the band as a whole. The Drums are in a state of transition, even admitting that they almost disbanded as recently as June due to creative differences. The hard part is trying to figure out where they are going, but based on their successes here, we're going to stick around to find out.