The Drums - Encyclopedia
by Shannon Smith
I never thought there would come a day when an album would stagger me to the point of silence. Yet Encyclopedia has succeeded in doing so for the first time.
It is quite telling that The Drums’ genre has been pigeonholed into the looming title of New Wave. For a band with such a wide variety of sounds, pigeonholing them into a genre is quite the challenge. It would be easy for me to say that The Drums are a hipster’s paradise; they shun the ‘mainstream’ sound and they appear to epitomise being ‘too cool for anything’. Before I listened to this album – and maybe during, in places - I could have systematically played the now dreaded ‘hipster’ card, and have been done with it. Yet that would have been a disservice to a band that has so much more to them than just that “I knew them before they were cool” vibe.
I cannot say a bad thing about any of the songs on this record. I have tried my hardest. I have listened to this album on repeat for days. I have attempted to pick apart every small crevice of this world created by The Drums. From Jonny Pierce’s intoxicating lyrics to the haunting backing, it all makes me want to weep with joy. I might be the only one – but my God, I love this album.
Encyclopedia starts with the haunting and delirious Magic Mountain. As the band’s first single to be released into the manic musical sphere since three years ago, fans have had polar reactions. If you scroll down the YouTube comments, from the trolls, the haters, and the diehards, it is clear that Magic Mountain is a different direction for the band. Personally, I love it. It has a chainsaw effect on the listener, cutting through any misconceptions of hipster-dom and instead bursting into a surreal world created by The Drums. With lyrics such as: “Inside my magic mountain we don’t have to be with them / Inside my magic mountain our hearts are on,” Encyclopedia’s main theme is embraced: forbidden and unholy love.
I can hear the groans now: “Not another album about lover’s tiffs and heartbreak!” Yet keep going (if you have made it this far), since Encyclopedia is not going to have you weeping in boredom. Through the twists and turns of this manic synthesised journey, the lyrics are constantly (explicitly or implicitly) narrating a rather dysfunctional relationship. It may take a couple of listens to notice the full extent of it, but it is there. I think it is part of the magic that the listener may not necessary realise this immediately. Instead, one is drawn in by each of the different backing tracks, which each have been perfectly tailored to the lyrics. If we look at the example of Kiss Me Again, it is obviously about love with lyrics such as: “I cannot complain today / Because I belong to you / And I cannot look the other way / Because I love you”. Yet because of the sanguine and almost whimsical tone, there was also a childlike magic that I quiet admired.
The highlights of this album are definitely the darker I Hope Time Doesn’t Change Him and Face Of God. Listening to I Hope Time Doesn’t Change Him, the sombre tone along with the eerie whistling actually contrasts with a large majority of the album and its upbeat nature (though this is not necessarily a bad thing). To be fair, it is rather hard to be upbeat when the opening lyrics are, “I never thought, ‘I wanna die’ / But I was looking for a gun…”. It is rare for me to find a song that makes me want to give the vocalist a hug whilst not actually hating it (high praise there!).
Admittedly, Encyclopedia is an album that has been difficult to put into words. Unsurprisingly, The Drums seem to have rejected any form of genre – and I do not count ‘indie’ as a genre. The problem with reviewing this record is that it’s an album which you have to listen to in order to discover it for yourself. Not helpful really.
The soul that The Drums have poured into this uncanny, outlandish, and untamed album is something to fall in love with. The original and unapologetically organic sound will not be for everyone, but I implore you – give Encyclopedia a chance. You might find yourself equally astonished by its brilliance.