The Drums Encyclopedia on 180g 2LP + Download
“Jacob and I were born losers and outcasts,” Jonny Pierce says, recalling how The Drums were received upon the release of their debut EP Summertime! nearly six years ago. “We didn’t really have friends growing up. We were both home schooled. We both grew up in poverty. We were both very confused little boys. We met each other and connected because we were losers, pretty much in every category. Suddenly, to be on the cover of NME and have The New York Times praising this little EP we released, you suddenly feel the opposite. I think we really enjoyed that.”
Of course, the enjoyment was fleeting, as befits Pierce’s morose outlook on life in its entirety. There were two wildly successful full-lengths (The Drums and Portamento), there were hits (“Let’s Go Surfing,” “Best Friend,” “Money,” and more), and for a moment, there was even the possibility of happiness. Then, managers left, band members departed, and The Drums nearly disbanded. Yet, Pierce worked through his bitterness with the kind of revelation only an artist truly in harmony with melancholy could contrive: they were better off broken than stuck in a rut. The two carried on, in their original form, the band of Jonny and Jacob.
That decision is Encyclopedia. For the band’s third full-length, Jonny and Jacob first had to reconcile their opposing impulses. Pierce had no-wave on his mind (“I wanted to make a garage record!”), while Jacob was wondering what might happen if they blended “The Sound of Music with obscure Japanese synthesizer pioneers.” In traditional The Drums fashion, the band decided to try... all of it. They holed up in a fittingly bleak rehearsal space and spent the next year composing and recording their most sophisticated and cohesive album yet. A dark miracle, really.
“The space we rented was very doom and gloom,” says Pierce. “It felt like we were in a loft in the middle of nowhere. I got very depressed every time we set foot into this room. We could have done it differently. We could have done things to make it easier on ourselves, but I think there’s this self-imposed torture, that we don’t even understand why we do it to ourselves. In the end, it seeps into the record. When we get too comfortable, it sucks all the creative juices right out and we’re left with nothing. It led to some really great songwriting. For us to do something that is this super gorgeous and majestic, it maybe had to come from trying to climb out of that darkness.”
It’s right there on album opener “Magic Mountain,” the song as near a call-to-arms as anything The Drums have done, or might ever do. It’s a dare almost, but defensive too. Like the opposing forces that comprise them, the band is both hiding and swinging swords. It’s not too difficult to read it as a warning to any lover of The Drums’ sunnier side to take heed or leave.
Nowhere are their opposing forces more in evidence than “I Can’t Pretend,” a song so steeped in melody and tranquility, you’d be forgiven if you missed its deathly resignation. As simple as the song’s sentiment might appear at first glance, the words betray all the complexity that makes the entirety of Encyclopedia such an immersive experience. It continues to yield its secrets over repeated listens, even when you think you’ve already absorbed every last bit of its hummable pop hooks.
The album’s title might refer to a set of books attempting to contain all knowledge, yet to be encyclopedic is a very different thing. It’s a kind of devotion, the expertise of a scholar concentrating forever on the singular fascination that drives him to live. With Encyclopedia, The Drums have become experts of themselves, inching ever closer to perfection even as it scurries around the next corner. Reduced to their essence again, Jonny Pierce and Jacob Graham have never known themselves better and song after song resounds with this new confidence. And, of course, the beauty of it is that it also sounds as if it could all come crashing down in a light breeze.
The Drums Encyclopedia Track Listing:
1. Magic Mountain
2. I Can’t Pretend
3. I Hope Time Doesn’t Change Him
4. Kiss Me Again
5. Let Me
6. Break My Heart
7. Face of God
8. US National Park
9. Deep In My Heart
10. Bell Laboratories
11. There is Nothing Left
12. Wild Geese