The Drums - Summertime - Albums - Reviews - Soundblab

The Drums - Summertime

by Rich Morris Rating: Release Date:2010-01-14

On the surface, Summertime! does exactly what it says on the tin. For a start, just check that exclamation mark! How's that for a statement of intent? In terms of its musical reference points, this debut album by Brooklyn's The Drums is almost a meta album about summer. It's not just 'about summer'; it's about the theme of summertime in pop music. This is most obvious on opening track 'Let's Go Surfing', a perky, bass-driven number complete with whistling and lovely, pure-hearted harmonies. It's an early Beach Boys track through and through. The fact that, just like the members of that quintessential 60s group, this bunch of 21st century city boys probably wouldn't know how to hold a surf board let alone ride a wave with one surely isn't lost on them. It certainly shouldn't be lost on the listener.

All this means Summertime! is the kind of indie album which is as much about the contents of its makers' record collections as anything else. But don't worry - you don't need to get all the references to The Beach Boys, The Mamas and the Papas, 60s girl group melodrama, The Cure, The Smiths, New Order or the soundtracks of John Hughes' 80s series of knowingly romantic films. You can still enjoy Summertime! just fine, but you'll probably have a big 'Oh!' moment coming up in the future. There's nothing original about the bittersweet 80s indie swoon of 'I Felt Stupid' or the DIY disco pop of 'Don't Be a Jerk, Johnny', but the way each jangly guitar line and knee-trembling indie boy croon is executed is so right, so bang on the money, that you don't feel any shame about slotting it next to your copies of the albums it draws inspiration from.

For all its great reference points, however, there is emotional substance to Summertime!; a dark side which manifests itself on several tracks. For all its blue sky melodies and candy floss harmonies, Summertime! is shot through with distrust, anger and mumbled threats of violence. "It's out of love!" singer Jonathan Pierce declares on 'Don't Be a Jerk, Johnny', to which a female voice shoots back, "No, it's not". "You used to be beautiful/ but now you're just tragic… You're full of horseshit," he wails towards the songs close. Meanwhile, on the cheery guitar pop of 'Saddest Summer', Pierce sings "Summer's just beginning, baby/ I might learn to hate you maybe". Are these really the kind of boys you'd want to go surfing with? There's also a creeping sense of unease, almost queasiness, to the jaunty likes of 'Let's Go Surfing' and 'Saddest Summer'; the feeling that the fairground ride's stopped being fun but no one's getting off. This feeling reaches its apotheosis on the spookily beautiful 'Down by the Water', a track so serene, so hushed and reverential it almost becomes a murder ballad, a lament for something irretrievably lost.

Ultimately, that's why Summertime! is a album about summer rather than a summer record itself. It views summertime as many things: as a context, a transient state, a painful but treasured memory, a thread running through a swathe of great pop music… As everything, in fact, except a fact. You get the impression that for The Drums, summertime, like childhood, is the saddest time of all because when it's present it's also slipping away. Nevertheless, when summertime rolls round for you and me, there's doubt which album we'll want to hear.

Richard Morris

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