Tag Archives: buddy holly

The Drums “The Drums”

The Drums
“The Drums”
[Moshi Moshi 2010]

Rating: 7.5

I spent last weekend in Portland with my brother, and while driving about the Mount Hood wilderness we noticed that all the rock stations played primarily grunge.  My guess is that this Northwestern oasis latched onto neighboring Seattle’s aura back in the 90s and still hasn’t let go.  I’m not arguing that there aren’t some incredible musicians in Portland (Joanna Newsom, Blitzen Trapper, M. Ward, Laura Veirs) but it seems the popular rock music in the area remains the music of the 90s.  This led to a discussion between the two of us about the 2000s.  Looking back through history, ever era had a distinct musical style, yet the past ten years didn’t yield anything definitive. Some may argue that it’s too soon to analyze the 2000s in general, but I guarantee that by the year 1999 anyone would define the 90s as a decade of grunge and gangsta rap.

My brother argued that all music anymore is recycled recreations of the past, that all avenues have been explored and now musicians are just driving up and down the driveway on their dirt bikes.  I thought about arguing his point by bringing up artists who continued to push the musical stratosphere into unexplored territories (Animal Collective, Deerhoof, Battles) but in terms of mainstream music, he had a point. Even in indie music the art of imitation has become popular with many bands utilizing retro recording techniques to try and capture the sound of an era long ago.

I would like to contend that I stand against the idea of sound theft, yet I can’t get enough of throwback bands like Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings, The Black Lips, and The Dutchess and the Duke.  But the artist I have the most difficult time with enjoying is the latest release from the Florida band The Drums.  It reeks of rip-off.  To be more exact, it virtually duplicates The Smiths, almost verbatim:

simple 80s drum track- CHECK

jaunty indie guitar riffs- CHECK

irresistible pop sensibility- CHECK

The only thing missing is the distinctive crooning voice of Morrissey.  Smiths without Morrissey equals crap, right?  Here in lies the dilemma.  Not only is a Morrissey-less Smiths listenable, it’s downright charming. The playful back-and-forth between Jonathan Pierce and Jacob Graham of The Drums will have you feeling warm-fuzzies from one lovable song to the next.  After the first track “Best Friend” you may try convincing yourself that the magic you just witnessed was a cute little stroke of luck. You’ll tell yourself, “When you emulate The Smiths, of course you’ll have at least one decent song.”

Even the lyrics about a dead friend in “Best Friend” resemble something Morrissey would have come up with:

But just when you think the duo has run out of pop-petroleum, the next song revs up and you’re continuing your joyous hike down happy trails.  The band doesn’t stray from the Smith’s/Cure/New Order style though; it’s all 80s, all the time. Can you imagine witnessing a mugging and being filled with joy?  Now just imagine if the person being robbed is Johnny Marr. Do you see why this album makes me feel dirty?  Only on “Down By the Water” does the band stray from the indie 80s vibe, yet even this song is a grave robbing of Buddy Holly’s mangled corpse.

I listen to “Down By the Water” while taking a bath to wash away my shame:

I read somewhere on the internet (so it has to be true!) that the band claims to have recorded this album in a bedroom with only a guitar, an old keyboard, a microphone, a tambourine, and a reverb machine. Although I doubt this mythology is true, I want to believe it SO badly because if it were true, in a strange way it would validate my addiction to their album.  Unfortunately, I struggle to accept this story. This album sounds too polished, too perfectly premeditated to have been an organic creation.

I love this album too damn much to accept that it is a total stylistic hold-up.  When I listen to “Let’s Go Surfing” I try to convince myself that they’ve taken the 80s sound and made it a hybrid of surfer rock, 50s pop, and modern rock, but I know in the end that I’m fooling myself. Whistling, bleeping keyboards, and short doo-wop chant interludes don’t mask the fact that this album isn’t trying to change the world. It’s simply fun. Crap. I hate fun.

“Let’s Go Surfing”, a nominee for both “Best Song of 2010” and “Worst Video of 2010”:

I finally had to concede that, yes, this album is grand theft audio and that’s okay. Not everything has to be completely original, or in this case, remotely original.  My brother may be right about the 2000s lack of an original sound, but imitation is happening everywhere.  With the likes of “Hawaii Five-O” on TV and “The Karate Kid” in theaters, I like to believe that at least in the music world bands aren’t simply remaking classic albums; they are harnessing the essence of the greats, and I guess in the case of The Drums, I’m okay with that.

Speaking of movies, The Drums even rip-off the opening drum track to “Footloose” for “Me and the Moon”. Where’s a Chris Penn dance sequence in a barn when you need one?:

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Rivers Cuomo.

Rivers Cuomo is a zombie. It’s the only explanation available for what has happened to the Weezer front-man over the past 10 years. Back in 1994, Weezer’s Blue Album resonated with teenage boys everywhere with its candid, nerdy lyrics about insecurity, Dungeons & Dragons, and homies dissin’ your girl.  After the Blue Album, it seemed that Weezer could do no wrong with hit songs like “Undone (The Sweater Song)” and “Buddy Holly.”

Unfortunately, their follow-up album Pinkerton got panned by critics because it was labelled as “juvenile” and“abrasive.” By year’s end it ranked #2 on Rolling Stone Magazine’s “Worst Albums of the Year” list. As we all know now (and many of us knew back then), Pinkerton is in fact a masterpiece and has gained a cult following since.  The adoration for this “M. Butterfly” inspired album of self-deprecation and failed relationships has grown so much that Rolling Stone placed it on both the “500 Greatest Albums of All Time” list and  the “Top 100 Albums of the 90s” list (revisionist history anyone?).

But after Pinkerton, something happened. Something I can’t explain.  Maybe it all started when the Scottie Pippen of the band, Matt Sharp, left to front The Rentals.  Maybe it was karma getting Rivers back for calling Pinkerton “…a hideous record. It was such a hugely painful mistake…” Whatever it was, the Rivers of the past 10 years is not the Rivers we got to know in the 90s.  While The Blue Album and Pinkerton were bleeding with emotion and honesty, every album released since has been completely devoid of personality, creativity, or heart.   Since the Green Album, I haven’t purchased another Weezer album, an alarming statement considering what a huge part Pinkerton and the Blue Album played in my adolescence.

Yes; Rivers Cuomo is a zombie. The Weezer sound that oozed with emotion and intellect in the 90s is now a lifeless, droning, prisoner of monotony, slowly eating away listeners’ brains, one note at a time. Ever since the disappointment set in with the Green Album (which I tried so damn hard to like), I realized Rivers had gone corporate, yet I never imagined he would go to this extreme.  Humans love money, but even a human wouldn’t stoop to the levels that Rivers has dropped to in the past few years (not even Jimmy Buffett). Can you imagine the Rivers of the 90s letting Lil Wayne rap over “El Scorcho”?  Or worse yet, invite Kenny G on stage to play along with “My Name is Jonas”? Only a brainless Rivers Cuomo would take part in such blasphemy.

At the 1:55 mark Kenny G joins the band…no lie! Watch until the end; the final second of the clip will provide you with douche chills to last the year:

I shouldn’t care this much. I’ve tried to keep Weezer off my radar for years now; I’ve tried to hold some semblance of hope that the Rivers I grew to know so intimately as a teenager still lived within the money-grubbing shell of a man we see today.  But this weekend, I couldn’t hide from the monster any longer.  Sitting at my friend’s house grilling brats, the zombie emerged from the radio via the 2010 summer dance hit “Magic.”  It didn’t rush toward my ears and go straight for my brain, rather it caught me unawares, sitting back sipping on a drink, believing the intro to “Magic” was leading into just another harmless OutKast rip-off.

Then, I heard the voice. It resembled Rivers Cuomo, but it was not the Rivers I knew.  All life had been sucked out of it, singing “I’ve got the magic in me” through an auto-tuner, resembling a robotic Lovin’ Spoonful (by the way, I DESPISE the Lovin’ Spoonful).  I turned to my friend Steve and called out over the infection that was slowly overtaking my auditory senses, “Is that Rivers Cuomo!?” He scrunched up his nose and nodded his head, signifying that he was feeling the same pain as me.  I turned to my right to find that my friend David had already succumbed to the zombie, nodding his head mindlessly to the overbearing chorus.

The only thing that could make this song worse is an autoharp (Lovin’ Spoonful reference for all you kids out there):

I stood to approach the radio; it had to be stopped! With each step I could feel the unyielding melody worming its way into my head, deadening my emotions, each auto-tuned lyric infecting my soul. And then, I stopped and stared blankly at the radio. It was too late. Zombie Rivers Cuomo had taken over.

Softly, I mumbled to myself, “I’ve got the magic in me,” and returned to my lawn chair.

“Lying on the floor! Lying on the floor! I’ve become undead.”

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