Do you know D.C.?
Get our free newsletter to stay in the know about local D.C.
As tempting as it is to peg The Drums as a surf-pop band—and with its never-gets-old number “Let’s Go Surfing,” the band makes it hard not to—that sunny tag is inaccurate. To be sure, the self-titled debut full-length contains the same chirpy vibe, occasional aquatic references, and reverbed, seraphic choruses that helped earn so much hype for The Drums’ 2009 Summertime EP. But this new record by the Brooklyn-based quartet is a bit more solemn and stripped down—as opposed to, say, the ornate, relentlessly cheerful orch pop of Magic Kids, whose debut, Memphis, is more directly traceable to the Wilson brothers’ influence. The deliriously blasé “Let’s Go Surfing” doesn’t make The Drums a surf-pop band any more than “Kill Surf City” made The Jesus and Mary Chain one. But The Drums might have some Wilson in their blood: Tony Wilson, the charismatic co-founder of the British label Factory Records. In particular, The Drums sound like Factory flagship band New Order—evidenced in the elastic guitar sound, syncopated beat, and pleasantly mournful vocals on The Drums’ leadoff track, “Best Friend.” The dance-friendly beat and synth throb of “Me and the Moon,” too, channel New Order’s mood bouncy, happy strain of melancholia. In general, The Drums evoke that sad, somber synthpop sound of the ’80s—the kind of stuff often heard in John Hughes’ movies. “We Tried,” a weepy tale of lost love, would fit right in on the Pretty in Pink soundtrack, which featured New Order’s “Shellshock.” In fact, lead singer Jonathan Pierce looks like James Spader’s Aryan preppie Steff McKee, but dances with the goofy, un-self-conscious glee of Jon Cryer’s Duckie. The guitars on “Down by the Water” simulate a walking bass line while Pierce sweetly croons, “If you fall asleep down by the water/I’ll carry you all the way home”—the song’s drama-queen gravitas and leaden pace are a perfect counterpoint to the upbeat ennui of “Let’s Go Surfing.” The Drums have a lot in common with Swedish, ’80s-influenced indie pop of the last decade—imagine The Shout Out Louds without the Cure fixation or Peter Bjorn and John with even more whistling—and certainly, they make no claim of originality. The band is clearly indebted to pop bands of the past—including, yes, The Beach Boys. But as long as their songs are this catchy, sad, and fun, The Drums should keep mining the ’80s.