Portamento is a mixed album to say the least. At points there are songs which are some of the best The Drums have ever written but parts of it are dire and almost embarrassing. The departure of Adam Kessler is not obvious but it is clear that the now three-piece have tried to take a new direction on the follow up to their eponymous album, with Portamento sounding a lot darker than their previously slightly twee work.
At first it appears The Drums are simply going to do what they do best, by writing jangly indie pop tunes. ‘Book of Revelations’, the opening track, does just this with Jonathan Pierce in his element, acrobatically falsettoing and crooning “I believe that when we die we die/so let me love you tonight”. ‘Days’ has the nonchalant sadness that has become the bands trademark, and one of the reasons why they prompt so many comparisons to The Smiths, while the single ‘Money’ is a song that lingers as Pierce continues to show off his impressive vocals over pulsing guitar.
It is in the middle of the album that things start to fall down. ‘I Don’t How To Love’ sees Jonathan Pierce wallowing in self pity and ending up sounding slightly self obsessed and ‘If He Likes It Let Him Do It’ sounds creepy but not in a good way. ‘Searching For Heaven’ is the worst with a synth part which could have been taken from a video game and Jonathan sounding nauseating.
Fortunately the remaining tracks pull the album back up. ‘I Need A Doctor’ is light relief and contrasts to ‘In The Cold’ with dysfunctional harmonies putting the song on edge. The loneliness and coldness seems to seep through. ‘How It Ended’ finishes the album in a similar style to how it started with catchy rhythmic ‘uh’s proving that The Drums can still do what they do best very well.
It’s much better for a band to at least attempt to move on their style and when The Drums manage to pull off the edginess they yearn to swathe this record in, it’s brilliant. But at points it absolutely crashes. We can only hope that in the future The Drums will be able to make the transition into a new style with more fluidity and ease.
By Jessy Parker