Let’s take it all the way back to 2010’s 'Let’s Go Surfing', with all the metaphorical bells and literal whistles, and with all the publications from here to Tanzania hyping The Drums up as the best thing to hit the viral airwaves since Pavement or Sonic Youth. Along with the aforementioned hit, the band’s self-titled debut rocketed them to indie stardom with songs like 'Me and the Moon' and 'Forever and Ever Amen', rehashing The Beach Boys melodic penchant for catchy rhythms and the overwhelming doldrums of The Smiths. But as Chinua Achebe once said, things fall apart, and internal squabbling and subsequent top-heavy albums like Portamento and Encyclopedia left a mark but not a permanent one. Now, Jonny Pierce’s childhood friend and Drums’ co-founder Jacob Graham is no longer apart of the equation, so the question remains - who the fuck in 2017 wants to listen to a new album by The Drums?
Surprisingly, you do. Going 'back to basics' is a tired trope, but that’s exactly what Abysmal Thoughts rests its laurels on. For obvious reasons, it is more of a Jonny Pierce album than one under The Drums moniker. He plays every instrument on the album and writes his own profoundly depressing elegies. Pierce has always been a deeply dark and introspective artist, rifling off tales of heartache and loss with an uncompromising grit, but this time he takes us even deeper into the recesses of his mind. 'The Mirror' immediately sets the atmosphere for Abysmal Thoughts, which acts as an unflinching autobiography of Pierce’s life. In hushed tones, Pierce bashes himself for not living up to the image he had the potential to ultimately realise. Insecurity is again explored on 'Blood Under My Belt', where a mixture of well-timed synths and reverb create a poppy yet daunting ambiance.
There is a spontaneous aura about the songs on Abysmal Thoughts, almost as if Pierce is relying more on his gut instincts rather than a restless appetite to impress critics. Of course, belying this surface level impulsivity is a scrupulous effort to craft songs that shift, manoeuvre, and most importantly, stay implanted in the subconscious. A visceral energy abounds in 'Heart Basel', where a cavalcade of Morrissey-like lyrics and jangle pop provide for an enthralling listen. Pierce is his usual downtrodden self, musing over companionship that seems to be just out of reach. There is a sort of tender teenage charm to a lot of Pierce’s content, as if he is an adolescent terrified by the looming world around him. In the past a lot of this has been dismissed as emotional diarrhoea, but Pierce dons a cloak of palpable sincerity throughout the album. His wunderkind spirit is captured in 'Shoot The Sun Down', where a whirling mesh of synths precipitate a man yearning to discard his anxious feelings and just hide away.
Abysmal Thoughts doesn’t go for the colossal sounding anthems exhibited on past efforts like 'Magic Mountain' or 'Me and the Moon'. Instead, Pierce relies on soft, harmonious recordings that sound like bashful confessionals. Nostalgia reigns supreme on the dreamy 'Head of the Horse'. Over distorted and warbly guitars, Pierce revisits the days of his youth while simultaneously chastising himself for permitting his mind to flush through the dregs of the past. “Are U Fucked” features a nice working of the reverb style the band is known for, but the lyrics splatter all over the place like a mistimed slam poetry session. But 'Your Tenderness' rights these wrongs, where Pierce’s vocals fuse a frothing demeanour with intermittent saxophone stabs. Amidst a crestfallen world, the same world that haunts and tortures him, Pierce finds serenity in the compassion of an enigmatic figure.
The adrenaline is in force on the title track, 'Abysmal Thoughts'. It is not only a fitting treatise for Pierce, but one that properly underscores the entire career trajectory of The Drums thus far. For lack of a better word, this is a weird band, if you can even call them a band at this point. But underneath the public controversies, Pierce keeps delivering infectious pop and contemplative lyrics that keep listeners tuned in. Pierce and company might never release anything as tight and high caliber as their debut album, but they are heading in a new direction while still remaining staunch pioneers of the heavy synths and reverb style that warranted them attention in the first place.