It’s hard to make vulnerability cool, but on Brutalism, The Drums do it again, and again, and again—nine times, in fact. If you’ve ever loved and lost—or felt unloved or lost—this is the album for you. Drawing upon the traditions of the great British alt bands of the 20thcentury, New York’s Jonny Pierce pours his heart out on each confessional hymn, unashamed in his yearning, delicate in his approach.
First is “Pretty Cloud.” Devoid of heavy guitar, driven by electronic beats, it’s a throwback to the sounds of 2000s indie bands like Peter Bjorn and John and Passion Pit. Pierce uses a cloud allegory to illustrate the intrigue of a temperamental love interest, having fun with all the directions he can take it in: “Heavy and thick, raining sorrow on me… Sensitive to temperature, sensitive to moisture.” Harmonies multiply the breathy beauty of his vocals, elevating his romantic experience to a mystical level.
“Body Chemistry” is reminiscent of The Drums’ prior work on Abysmal Thoughts. Once again, Pierce is a modern Morrissey, weaving quotidian tragedy and loneliness into a tale that seems to proclaim his personal doomsday. When he sings “Is my chemistry not forgiving me?”, he has all the desperate passion of The Smiths asking “How soon is now?”. Later in the song, a verse—“Oh, everyone is in one room/And I’m in the next room/I lean into the corner/I smell the wall, I exhale, I smell it again”—evokes their famous “So you go and you stand on your own and you leave on your own…”
“626 Bedford Avenue,” the next track, has all the flippant social scrutiny and bouncy groove of a Britpop hit. Phrase like “Baby, let’s have a conversation/And God forbid we have a connection” evoke memories of Life Trilogy-era Blur. Bubbly sound effects add a sense of whimsy; falsetto and harmonies turn a simple story into an episode in a saga. The lyrics are best when they mix silliness with sincerity. “I should have left when you laughed at my shoes” is one of the track’s most beautiful moments, given the fragility in Pierce’s voice; another iconic volta occurs when Pierce switches the song’s title to “626 Stupid Avenue.” It’s easy to relate to his frustration if you’ve ever been caught up in a less than ideal fling.
And that’s just the beginning. Every track on Brutalism is distinct, an intricate lattice of heartbreaking details. “Loner” ends with a ragtag children’s choir singing, “I don’t want to be alone/And I am scared of all the people in the world.” “I Wanna Go Back” is the perfect sad summer song; it starts with gently lapping waves and the most gorgeous vocals you’ve heard since the Beach Boys. Then there’s “Nervous,” which could make you cry under the right circumstances. It begins with an image straight out of a big screen drama—“Two nights ago we said goodbye/In a borrowed car in the Hollywood hills.” From there, it slowly unfolds into a guitar ballad with a subtly tragic refrain: “Being nervous around you/Oh, that’s something new.” Every time Pierce sings the title, you can sense his heart palpitating.
Brutalism is The Drums’ best work yet. Each song’s themes are tried and true; yet Pierce makes them seem brand new. Give it a listen before spring ends; don’t let this be one of the best forgotten albums of 2019.