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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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Best/Worst Album Covers of 2009

Unfortunately, there will not be any “Road Trip” blogs for two weeks due to all of my trip photos being on my home computer.  Never fear! The best of lists are here! Over the next couple weeks we will be unveiling our top albums, songs, and below, our best and worst album covers.  Enjoy your holiday season, and of course, enjoy our look back on 2009.

The Worst…

10. Kenny Chesney
“Greatest Hits II”

It looks like Kenny's roadies left all his gear on the beach. I guess he'll have to load it all himself! Fortunately, he doesn't have any sleeves to roll up.

9. Green Day
“21st Century Breakdown”

I think this album is supposed to look urban, dirty, and rebellious. Instead, it looks like a polished paint by numbers.

8. Susan Boyle
“I Dreamed a Dream”

When you are famous for being ugly with a beautiful voice, you probably shouldn't plaster your ugly mug on the CD cover, even if your hands are covering half of the mess. Like Obama would say, "You can put lipstick on a pig, but it's still a pig." (Too harsh?)

7. Monsters of Folk
“s/t”
Oh! I get it! It’s folk stars in cartoon form! There’s Conor Oberst, Jim James, M. Ward and there’s….um…there’s….the dude from “Doonesbury”?
6. Adam Lambert
“For Your Entertainment”

Gay.

5. Twisted Sister
“Big Hits and Nasty Cuts: The Best of Twisted Sister”

I don't know what's worse: five 50-year-olds in ripped jeans and make-up or the monster's claws ripping through their image.

4. Chris Brown
“Graffiti”

Obviously, Chris Brown is not the best at making good decisions, but who knows what he was thinking with this cover. Maybe he's auditioning for the part of Judge Doom in "Who Framed Roger Rabbit 2". "Hey evil cartoon creatures! If you don't help me with my plan I'll spray you with The Dip!"

3. Ben’s Brother
“Battling Giants”

It looks like somebody went a little overboard with their collage. "But there were so many cool pics to cut out of my 'National Geographic!"

2. Bill Engvall
“Aged and Confused”

God is great. Beer is good. The world is crazy! EL OH EL!

1. Brooke Hogan
“The Redemption”

I know money may be tight for the Hulkster these days but this is God awful...I'm guessing Hulk must have owed a favor to a blind South Beach air-brush artist.

The Best…

10. The Black Lips
“200 Million Thousand”

At first glance this cover may seem lame with its scrawled letters and monotonous black and white lines, but if you stare at it a little longer, a gruesome face will emerge from the mess of lines. Beware!

9. Grizzly Bear
“Vecktamist”

I don't get Grizzly Bear, and it frustrates me to no end. Their 2009 release "Vectamist" has been critically acclaimed, yet I listen to it and find myself yawning. What am I missing here? Well, at least I can appreciate the album's expressionist cover, a vibrant blend of triangular shapes and chipping paint.

8. Baroness
“Blue Album”

It sure is nice having a graphic artist in your band.

7. Weezer
“Raditude”

Sure, this Weezer album sucks dog balls, but you can't deny the shear awesomeness featured in this image of a canine catapulting across a living room. If I could describe this picture in one word, it would "RADITUDE"! (Eck, I just gave myself douche chills)

6. Antlers
“Hospice”

This cover may seem boring and simple, but that is what makes it so brilliant. Everything seems to fit perfectly: the contrast of the colors and the cyclical feel of the two hands reaching out. When you notice that the left upper-hand is wearing a hospital wristband, the album's title "Hospice" takes on a much larger meaning.

5. Flaming Lips
“Embryonic”

This isn't the cartoony water color Flaming Lips cover you've grown accustomed too, which is fitting when considering the stark change in style the album contains. Dark and appalling, both the grimey music and the cover's image of a woman attempting to emerge from a hairy cocoon will leave you confused yet searching for more.

4. Dinosaur Jr.
“Farm”

I'm not sure if these walking plants are inspired by LOTR's Ents, or if they are supposed to be giant pot plants, but there is something damn cool about this image of vegetation dudes carrying cute women away from the city smog. It doesn't really fit the album's grinding riffs and howling guitar solos, but when a cover is this kick-ass, does it matter?

3. Biffy Clyro
“Only Revolutions”

This is a truly captivating photograph that only raises questions. Are these two being held captive? Why is there a fire? What do the sheets waving in the wind represent? Are they being held back? Or do they somehow represent sexual tension? Or am I just going crazy? It's too bad the band's music isn't nearly as interesting as this photo that will lead you to either enlightenment or insanity.

2. Animal Collective
“Merriweather Post Pavilion”

Stare at the picture for a moment. Is it moving like water? What makes it even cooler is how fitting it is alongside "Merriweather Post Pavilion's" watery, spaced out sounds.

1. Yo La Tengo
“Popular Songs”

A rusty, unravelling cassette tape - not only does it make you nostalgic for the age of the mix-tape, but it also makes you a little sad. Kids being born today will never own a physical piece of digital media. All their music, movies, and video games will be kept on a hard drive, not taking up space and gathering dust in the basement. At the same time, they will never know the joy of making that perfect blend of songs to be listened to ad nauseam in your car as your cruise the loop. As much as us "Hippies and a Ouija Board" want to keep this era alive, sometimes "Ghosts Don't Always Want to Come Back".

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