According to frontman Jonny Pierce, The Drums’ brilliantly naïve debut was written from the perspective of someone 10 years younger. The group’s sophomore effort, Portamento, finds the band maturing but not yet mature, as it pumps out two-note New Order guitar riffs and whiny screeds against parents, religion, and its members’ empty wallets. The angst doesn’t end with the album, however. After guitarist Adam Kessler left, his bandmates deemed his contributions “minimal at best.” But from the way these new songs emulate but never attain the effortless fun of 2010’s buzz-making LP, that slam might have been premature. On that record, “Down By The Water” marked a transition, roughly separating the playful tracks from the wistful. On Portamento, “Searching For Heaven” fills the buffer role, but its unfortunate Jean-Luc Ponty-meets-Kraftwerk burble just isolates the simplistic and forgettable from the simply forgettable.
There are a few saving graces: The saxophone on “What You Were” lends some Saturday Looks Good To Me-style breeziness, and “Book Of Revelation” and “Days” feature the sharp but brittle guitar hooks and reverb-heavy vocalizing that the band does so well. Unfortunately, the other three-fourths of the record rely too much on wordless woo-woos, ghastly teenager-isms, and facile songwriting. It’s pleasant enough in five-minute bursts, but stultifying at a stretch. If this is what happens when The Drums gets personal, maybe it should go back to working the crowds.