It’s unrealistic to expect any artist, any human for that matter, to maintain a sustained high level of output over an
extended period. We all have peaks and valleys. This is also what makes the groups, the co-workers, the friends, the leaders who do manage an unbroken string of successes so lauded, so
Abysmal Thoughts is the Drums’ fourth album. Their 2010 self-titled debut was a fully-formed near classic, blending bouncy, lo-fi indie pop and surf rock together into something both
instantly satisfying and far deeper and darker than it seemed at street level. Unfortunately, the two albums that followed were rapidly diminishing returns. I was wary about even trying to dive
into this new one. At what point do you cut your losses? A person can only endure so much heartbreak before self-preservation kicks in.
This is what makes it a joy to discover that Abysmal Thoughts is a wholly unexpected return to form. Despite the departure of longtime keyboard player Jacob Graham (to focus on his
puppetry, not kidding), vocalist and primary songwriter Jonny Pierce (who essentially now is the Drums) sounds rejuvenated and highly focused. He freshens and evolves the band’s attractive
bread and butter with new twists, including saxes, woodwinds and left-of- center synthesizer sounds. Check the rubbery keyboards, woozy synths and energetic saxes in “Your
“I put a blanket over my face
Six dollars and cheap vodka
Was that all it took to unlock
Ten years of secrets”
One of the Drums’ greatest assets is their ability to cloak loss, insecurity, and the dark thoughts that come in the middle of the night in twisty melodies and upbeat guitar pop. This is a feat they
managed in maddeningly inconsistent bursts over the last few albums, but that is on full, confident display here. “Blood Under My Belt” is the most immediate track on the album,
wrapping infidelity, guilt and shame in swirling strings, Smiths-ian jangle and buoyant bass. “Heart Basel” skitters on a herky guitar figure reminiscent of the Cure’s “Close to You”, a plea to
tap back into the veins of openness and freedom opened wide on vacation, on breaks from the daily grind, that all too often shut tight when faced with “real life”.
“Shoot the Sun Down” couples the uneasiness of a summer hangover with the confusion of wondering if the things you discovered the night before will lead to further closeness or be swept
under the rug, all set to a seductive, synth heavy track that feels like being attacked by the lasers from a spaceship in an early 1980s arcade game.
Meanwhile, album opener “Mirror” might be the most fully realized Drums song to date. Combining fleet footed post punk guitars, Beach Boys-esque “woo hoo ooohs”, thick, tumbling
basslines, and a gradually building song structure, it’s infectious, inventive and illuminating, and is a fantastic framework for one of Pierce’s best lyrics about self-doubt.
“I look in the mirror
When the sun goes down
I ask myself
Who are you now?
I’ve been here before
A room without a door”
Abysmal Thoughts is an all too uncommon happy feeling, a successful second act from a favorite you’d thought had lost the plot.
RIYL: The Wake; drinking too much coffee and listening to mid-’80s Cure; happy surprises.