This is not what The Drums are known for, but it is perhaps some of their best work. After two members of The Drums left, the band almost fell apart. Founding members, Jonathan Pierce and Jacob Graham were left to pick up the pieces and carry on. Their third album, Encyclopedia, is a reflection of this change. It takes a step away from their familiar sad, beachy, straightforward pop sound and creeps into the shadows of the something more electronic, more psychedelic, and more aggressive. In some cases, change can be a beautiful thing.
The first few seconds on the opening track, “Magic Mountain,” are full of strange whistles and rippled claps, creating suspense and intrigue that is immediately broken by a battery of fanatical, high-frequency, paranoid pop. At that moment it’s clear: Gone are the cool summer days of The Drums’ most popular song, “Let’s Go Surfing.” While it’s clearly still The Drums, there is a darkness and an honesty that was never there before. It sounds as if The Drums have ripped off their mask to reveal what was always lurking behind those jovial pop melodies with the dismal lyrics.
The Drums have always seemed to stick to a system of stripped down simplicity with a catchy beat and a heavy heart. This time around, however, they are adding some complexity to the mix. The single note guitar riffs and annunciated vocals that have always been a part of The Drums’ music are still very much present, but they are washed in echoes and effects. “Kiss Me Again” electronically bubbles in mild lust and ends up sounding like a happy Smith’s song while “Bell Labs” matches unsettling pangs and percussion with eerie echoey vocals and a minimalist bass.
The Drums are in the doldrums. “I Hope Time Doesn’t Change Him” sways in with smooth despair when on the first line of the song Pierce crisply says, “I never thought I’d want to die, but I was looking for a gun on a cold night.” Encyclopedia is a deep space mission into disturbed thought. It’s dark but still danceable. A rapid firing drum machine propels “Let Me” as Pierce sings “They might hate you, but I love you, and they can go kill themselves.” Their blatant despondency and anger is presented so directly that is almost startling, but the unexpected can sometimes be pleasing.
“U.S. National Park” and “Wild Geese” offer a balance to the album. They slow it down. There is something cute about them even though they remain in the same melancholy vein as the rest of the songs. “U.S. National Park” has a melody like an awkward middle school slow dance and lyrics like a depressed teenager. “Wild Geese” closes the album with layered synths, imagery, and loneliness.
Two of the most Drums-y songs on the album are “Deep in my Heart” and “There Is Nothing Left.” They have repetitive riffs matching repetitive choruses, background vocal embellishes, and that underlying darkness. This darkness used to be a passive sadness, however, now it seems to be more of a passive anger. The songs are so upbeat and pretty though, one almost doesn’t realize that what they are tapping their foot to is not a happy song. It is the sound of hiding behind a smile or drinking problems away. The Drums are opening up and letting go.They are exploring dark paths musically and mentally. Encyclopedia is a step in the right direction if staying relevant is a goal. It is something different for them— something raw and something real.