Abysmal Thoughts is quite a name for an album. It’s a title that suggests loneliness and gloom, so naturally, it raises the question, “How much fun will this listening experience be?” The answer: a lot. This LP—the fourth studio album from New York City indie pop band The Drums—is an enchanting throwback to the introspective wistfulness of ‘80s alternative music with a distinct sound all its own. Although longtime Drums fans might have mixed feelings about the departure of all original band members but vocalist Jonny Pierce (the album is pretty much his solo project), they shouldn’t worry—this is still quality music. Due to its impressive production, thoughtful lyrics, and expressive vocals, it’s sure to be a favorite of all listeners who can’t get enough of their Smiths vinyls.
“Mirror,” the first track on the album, is a clearly Morrissey-influenced highlight. From its easy tempo to its smooth, but wounded-sounding performance from Pierce to lyrics like “I didn’t need another push towards the end/but you did it with a casual stance,” it’s the perfect intro to the brand of intelligently articulated angst the album offers. The chorus features ethereal female backing vocals, emphasizing the song’s theme of questioning oneself and capturing the vibe of bands like San Cisco. Much of its strength comes from the fact that it manages to be dark and somber without being depressing—a hallmark of many of The Drums’ best songs.
Soon after “Mirror” comes “Blood Under My Belt,” a single that fans of The Cure will adore. This one sounds kind of like “Friday I’m In Love,” but with lyrics about death and change instead of dedication that endures throughout the days of the week. The repetition of phrases like “don’t do it” and “I love you” conveys a sense of raw urgency that makes The Drums even easier to root for. Other stellar tracks on the first half of the album include “Heart Basel,” whose techno flourishes and falsetto vocals are reminiscent of Foster the People, and “Head of the Horse,” which tells the story of Pierce’s father’s reaction to Pierce being gay in a subtly heartbreaking way.
The second half of the record has plenty of interesting tracks, as well. At points, the songs blend into each other, but still, each track has unique details that distinguish it from the others. “Your Tenderness” packs a fantastic punch of ‘80s nostalgia with spacey synths and saxophone embellishments. “Rich Kids” is a flippant societal critique with fast-talking verses and an MGMT-goes-surf-rock vibe. (Admittedly, some of its lyrics fall a bit flat, but you’ll likely be too busy bobbing your head to the beat to notice.) “If We All Share (Means Nothing)” is like a haunting folk song with a focus on simple guitar strumming and flute sounds, allowing Pierce’s emotive voice to shine. Simple, graceful metaphors like “Oh, I climbed a mountain/So I could see you coming” and “I dug a river to the sea/So you could sink into me” give it a timeless fairytale-gone-wrong aura. Then there’s the title track, which serves as the finale. Predictably, its lyrics are full of despair—e.g. the unrhyming triple-punch “Who have I become?/Is there no way to come back?/Oh, how could you do that to me?” However, its tone is relatively upbeat. Whistles, bells, and handclaps provide the backup music for Pierce’s soaring laments, creating the kind of intriguing juxtaposition seen in classics like “This Charming Man.”
Abysmal Thoughts is an album that shows off Pierce’s power as a vocalist, lyricist, and instrumentalist. A cross between a diary and a storybook, full of emotion but always elegant rather than over-the-top, it’s a wondrous soundtrack for your brooding summer nights.