Monday, 5 September 2011

The Drums - Portamento

The Drums' Portamento adds to a growing amount of guitar-focused, ambient music making it to general release this year. It's been a genuinely great year of music - both the mainstream pop and the alternative and independent releases. With Portamento, The Drums have created a collection that brings that fact into soft-focus, a sentimental bundle of notes and vocals that brings to mind nights spent in a low-ceilinged bar where the lager's sold in cans, rather than pint glasses.

This is music for people who like to see it performed live - where the interaction with the band is as important as the thought that's gone into the lyrics or the originality of the composition. Luckily, the recorded versions retain enough of that interior echo to carry some of that seeing-it-live feeling over into digital form. It's not quite the same, admittedly, but it's a damn good effort.

Portamento (Deluxe Version) - The Drums
High Points

Hard To Love is a fine combination of late-90s budding-band instrumentals dominated by drums and guitar, with elements of 80s electronica adding the hint of another age to proceedings. It's actually hard to tell, here, what's synthesised and what's an electric instrument, which helps to blend the elements together well into an engaging and deceptively light-hearted whole.

There will likely be some people who listen to I Need A Doctor who skip to the next track before really giving it a chance. Don't - the quick-strummed guitar opening is a little low-key, but the track builds strongly. The chorus is filled with character all of its own, while the later verses are similarly unique. If you've gone to the trouble of buying the whole album, give decent attention to this track - it could easily pass under the radar, otherwise.

The Verdict

It's unfortunate that many of the things that are so good about Portamento are the same things that its critics won't really get - not because they don't know what they're talking about, but because music is an individual thing and, as I mentioned above, this album is decidedly sentimental.

So, the as-live style of the songs, which I think helps to retain a sense of how they are supposed to sound, might equally garner criticism from those who prefer a song to be sequenced, rather than played - and who like their vocals to be autotuned.

It's not a new debate - The Eagles were criticised for singing too well during their live performances, at a time when many performers thought live shows should have less-good vocals than recordings.

These days it's the other way around - recorded music is often supernaturally in-tune - but The Drums' offering is delightfully natural in its performance and sound and I, for one, commend it on that point.

Other than that, there is little to criticise one way or the other. The overall performance is both strong and mature, the influences traceable back through the decades. The final product, modern without straying too far into the avant garde, yet unlikely to suffer too much from dating in the years to come.

Final Score: 74%

Portamento (Deluxe Version) - The Drums

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