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Creators Monthly Indie/Indie Rock Pop/Indie Pop Punk/Rock

Ten Years On: The Drums’ Prodigal Son, Portamento

Portamento’s album cover. Courtesy of Pitchfork

Saying that something is life changing is dramatic. However, in the case of indie-rock band The Drums, I can make this statement with absolute certainty. They shaped my music taste, influenced my songwriting, and provided the soundtrack to some of my best memories. Their self-titled debut album, released in 2010, is one of the best albums of that decade, in my humble opinion. The production, the songwriting, and all the subtle flourishes and embellishments present within those twelve songs is unbelievable, especially for a debut album. There are few other releases like it.

In 2011, the band released their second album, titled Portamento. In an Instagram post celebrating the album’s tenth anniversary, band leader Jonny Pierce mentioned how the album was considered to be a flop, a victim of the “sophomore slump.” He is not wrong in saying that. Compared to the debut album, the reviews for Portamento were noticeably lukewarm. According to Metacritic, the average score for the album was a 64. YouTube music critic TheNeedleDrop gave the album a 5/10 after praising the debut album. Fans were confused by the album, and I will not hesitate to say that I was as well. After spending so many listens absorbing the shimmering guitars, beachy harmonies, and lovesick lyrics of the first album, I did not know what to make of Portamento, and as a result, I shoved it aside.

Portamento differs from the debut album almost immediately with the song “Book of Revelation.” The production is less shiny, and the tone of the song is more sullen than even the darkest moments of the debut. Jonny is also singing in a much higher register than he did before. On the debut, his singing was safe and fit the music like a glove, whereas on this album, he is pushing the envelope. Considering how flamboyant Jonny’s live presence is, this change makes sense. It also shows that he is not afraid to take risks to get his point across. 

As the album continues, it throws more curveballs at the listener. “What You Were” and “Money” feature a much higher emphasis on synthesizers than on previous releases, with various keyboard stabs poking through the thin fabric of guitars. The latter also features some interesting vocalizations that will surprise many fans of the debut album. The dive into synths hits its peak on the song “Searching For Heaven,” which is all synthesizer and saves for some haunting vocals. 

However, ten years on, it is safe to say that Portamento has aged remarkably well, turning many of its skeptics into supporters, including me. I love many of the songs on this album. The emotion is more potent, more urgent than on the debut album. While that album dealt with love in a way that was melancholy but also tinged with sunshine. It was broken hearted but still had its composure. Portamento, meanwhile, does not hold back any punches, with its lyrics lacking the poetics of the first album but packing more of a punch, such as on the song “If He Likes It Let Him Do It.” The songs feel brutally honest, and the listener can feel whatever Jonny is feeling without any doubts. 

The music is also far more dour, but not to the detriment of the listening experience. The aforementioned “Money” was the first single off the album, and it is one of the catchiest songs The Drums have ever released. Despite its breakneck pace, each instrument is tight to the groove. The lyrics are a bit more tongue in cheek, with the chorus “I want to buy you something / But I don’t have any money” being wryly humorous and relatable.

At the end of the day, I will always adore the debut album, and it is to this day my favorite Drums release. However, I owe Portamento an apology. It is a stripped down, emotionally turbulent album, and an experience completely separate from the debut album. Once you separate Portamento from The Drums, it shines in its own light, where it belongs.

The Drums Circa 2011. From left: Connor Hanwick, Jacob Graham, Jonny Pierce

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Punk/Rock Uncategorized

Trashmouth Records Remix Release: Heaven On Earth

New Malden-based, cult favorite, indie label Trashmouth Records have released the second track from their tenth anniversary compilation album. It’s a remix of “Heaven on Earth,” a deliciously chaotic, sonically schizophrenic rocker from Fat White Family’s incendiary debut, Champagne Holocaust.

A statement from Trashmouth Records explains the concept behind the remix album and offers a preview into its contents: “The remixes see the brothers Liam & Luke May, who not only run the label, but have recorded, produced and mixed all of their releases at Trashmouth Studios in New Malden, exploiting their long-standing Acid-House roots (see Decius/Medicine 8).”

“The LP will of course be pressed on the finest affordable, luxurious fake-gold vinyl & encompass a visual history of the label within its artwork, featuring photographs of the now legendary Trashmouth nights at the Brixton Windmill, where bands bitched & bonded, where blood, booze & tears were spilled in almost equal measure & where the seeds of a small corner of modern musical history were inadvertently sewn.”

Fat White Family ringleader Lias Saoudi eloquently explains the incredible importance that Trashmouth Records holds for him: “Where does mediocrity go to die? Simple: New Malden…Trashmouth Records are the only positive energy left in South London, all else is just a congregation of fashionable dust. The only way I can get to sleep at night nowadays is by telling myself over and over again that it was real, that I really did cut a few records with those grand masters, those brothers sonic oracular – Liam and Luke May. That no matter how bad it all gets, they can never take that away from me. That is my truth. THE truth. OUR TRUTH.”

Over the next few months, we can look forward to remix releases from other Trashmouth Records signings such as Madonnatron and Meatraffle, before the release of the album in full.

Trashmouth Records 10th Anniversary Commemorative Photo Collage by Lou Smith.
@lousmithphoto

The track listing is as follows:

  1. Fat White Family – Heaven On Earth (Trashmouth Remix)
  2. Peter Harris & Lee Scratch Perry – Nothing & Then Nothing (Trashmouth Remix)
  3. Warmduscher – Yolk Buns USA (Trashmouth Remix)
  4. Meatraffle – The Horseshoe (Trashmouth Remix)
  5. Madonnatron – Venus & Rahu (Trashmouth Remix)
  6. Taman Shud – The Hex Inverted (Trashmouth Remix)
  7. Weston Decker – Lazy (Trashmouth Remix)
  8. Bat-Bike – Drag & Drop (Trashmouth Remix)
  9. Pit Ponies – Arrogant & Sad (Trashmouth Remix)
  10. Chupa Cabra – Violent Urges (Trashmouth Remix)

Individual remix singles, digital downloads and of course, the limited edition gold vinyls, will all be available on Bandcamp.

Join the label in celebrating their landmark accomplishment of surviving a decade navigating the shark-infested waters of the music biz and emerging as South London’s shining knights of sonic expression by purchasing a copy for your record collection.

Imagine dropping the needle down and having Madonnatron, Meatraffle, the Fat White Family and Warmduscher all in your flat at the same time (only without the possible threats of property damage, hearing loss, and the worst hangover you’ve had since that girl back during freshers week convinced you to drink something called Satan Comes for Pope John XII.) Heaven, right? What could be better?

May the place “where mediocrity goes to die,” celebrate many more anniversaries, and may their signings continue to bless us with their sonic dreams and nightmares alike.