Originally published by PopMatters on August 6, 2010
The Drums, like so many American indie acts before them, are infinitely more popular in the UK than in America. That’s not to say, for example, that they’re not capable of selling out mid-sized venues in max-size college towns across this country. But as they sound not entirely unlike Haircut 100 and look not entirely unlike Orange Juice, it makes sense that they’d strike gold across the pond.
This release, then, sees the Drums performing in their foppish holy land, before an iTunes Festival crowd in London who are at least thrilled to know someone in Brooklyn once bought a Joy Division album. Even when they had barely released any material at all, the Drums were still caught up in Britain’s unyielding hype machine, one which has in the past tried to sell the world on everyone from Menswe@r to S*M*A*S*H. Though it’s no fault of the band itself, it is through this lens one is forced to consider the Drums.
One certainly can’t accuse the Drums of lacking energy. Jonathan Pierce’s vocals are a suitable mix of Ian McCulloch bravado and the charming limitations of early Bono range. The music is often deceptively slight, easy to dismiss as a buried track from the soundtrack to a second-tier, mid-career John Hughes flick. But then you realize you’re tapping your toes to songs like “Book of Stories”, and you feel like you ought to be ashamed, even though you actually aren’t at all.
Curse the Drums, if you will, for reintroducing a whistled refrain far too soon after we’d finally buried the monstrous “Young Folks” by Peter Bjorn and John from our collective consciousness. Also praise them, though, not just for making the cheap ploy work in “Let’s Go Surfing”, but for not making you want to strangle whoever programmed the loop on which it sits far too comfortably on this live recording.
Where the Drums’ iTunes Festival recording ultimately stumbles is where their studio recordings also come up short: Before long, it’s all a bit samey. It’s like finding a fancy box of chocolates only to find they’re pretty much the same damn piece over and over again, only maybe instead of almonds, it’s suddenly peanuts or cashews or almonds in slightly smaller bits. That’s something of a shame, as one of the band’s best unheralded songs, “Forever and Ever Amen”, closes out the set in grand fashion. It’s good, but maybe not good enough to make it or any of its brethren stand out all that much.
It’s too early to dismiss the Drums, especially as a live concern; even on an audio recording, it’s clear the band and their fans are having an absolute blast. But it’s also much too early to assume they’re in it for the long haul. See them while you can, but don’t be surprised if you find yourself unable to focus all the way through.