When it comes to following up a wildly successful debut album there are a number of roads you can take. At one extreme you have the ‘Room On Fire’ approach, which involves maintaining momentum by recording a new record quickly, without stopping to mess about with your sound.
The polar opposite, and thankfully less travelled path, is the ‘Second Coming’ approach. This involves sitting on your ass, doing nothing for years, before realising you’re lost it. So, where on this sliding scale can we place ‘Portamento’?
Well, they certainly haven’t hung about, which is usually a sign of a band confident that they have more to offer, but can occasionally lead to records that sound like limp clones of their predecessors. Not so here, The Drums have managed to expand their delicate sound without enduring many of the usual awkward rips and tears.
So, what’s changed? For one thing, The Drums now have enough members to actually play their songs! On their eponymous debut drum machines, synth and bass loops formed a big part of the sound, and whilst electronics are even more prominent on ‘Portamento’, they are offset by more live instrumentation.
The bass line in lead single money is great example of the new dimension this adds, lending a beefed up kick to a typically fey, preposterously catchy tune. (As you’d expect, I’ve been listening to it quite a lot recently and, so far, this review is the only form of communication I’ve been able to carry out other than singing “I don’t have any money! I don’t have any money!”)
Whilst the guitars still trade almost exclusively in reverby three note riffs, the work of the synths has been increased. They feature more prominently and with a wider variety of functions.
In opener, ‘Book of Revelations’ and the bouncy ‘Hard to Love’, their cute ‘piccolo-reproduced-on-a-tiny-Casio-running-out-of-battery ’ sound gives melodic thrust. On ‘Days’ ( which may well be the best they’ve ever written) and ‘How it Ended’, the electronics add depth and texture, forming an almost shoe-gaze swirl, burying the naggingly persistent guitar lines within, like a winging child crying out from the folds of its mother’s ball gown.
Synths are also responsible for the albums lowest point, ‘Searching for Heaven’ which is a fairly grating ballad with no other instrumentation. It defies expectations, granted, but it doesn’t offer much.
That said, the only other time the album feels flat is when they over egg the stripped down repetitive guitars, ‘Please Don’t Leave’ being the guilty party.
That track is an example of the supposedly darker, more autobiographical side of The Drums this album was supposedly going to display, however, apart from a clutch of songs towards the end of the album (which it is frustratingly hard to reach, the first five songs being so addictive that you’ll almost definitely hit repeat at some point in the sequence) most of the songs have the bounce of tracks like ‘Never Drop My Sword’.
Musically The Drums still keep it simple. The guitar ‘solo’ from ‘In The Cold’ consists of significantly less than a handful of notes, as if to bemoan the very inarticulacy of heartbreak by using the same three words, over and over again…perfect.
Lyrically they retain a light touch. The line “When you feel asleep I threw a tambourine at your face/ And of course I missed/ Because I always miss” sums up perfectly The Drums ability to be carelessly brilliant.