With The Drums‘ new ‘Abysmal Thoughts,’ band founder Jonny Pierce is making the exact album he’s always held in his heart. Of course, this is The Drums, so that heart is broken — but there’s beauty and even bliss in this kind of heartbreak, as well as that special kind of glorious delirium that comes from taking everything life can throw at you and still walking away triumphant. If ‘Abysmal Thoughts’ doesn’t sound at all abysmal — really, Pierce has rarely been this irresistibly pop — that’s because this is a story about how to figure out what happiness means once the worst has already happened. “Happiness can be confusing to me,” says Pierce. “It shows up out of nowhere, and before you can even get used to it, it’s vanished. But ‘Abysmal Thoughts?’ I can rely on them — and with the political chaos that is raining down, who knows when these dark feelings will subside?”
As the last album cycle for the Drums finished and his long-term relationship with his former partner dissolved, Pierce took some time away from music altogether in hopes to reconnect with himself and find future inspiration. Determined to make a change, he ended up leaving his longtime home in New York and found himself isolated in a large empty apartment in Los Angeles, all his plans for life and love suddenly in shambles: “I said I wanted to let life happen?” he says. “Well, the universe listened and life began to fuck me real good! But honestly, I make the worst art when I’m comfortable. The stuff that resonates with me the longest — and that resonates with others — is always the stuff that comes out of my hardships and confusion.”
That hardship and confusion — and the clarity of personality and purpose it inspired — became ‘Abysmal Thoughts,’ an unflinching autobiography with Pierce back in full control of the band. He’s back to not just writing all the songs by himself but playing every instrument, too, this time realizing exactly his own personal vision for the band. Not coincidentally, it’s some of the most revelatory work he’s ever done. The key was opener “Mirror,” and from there, ‘Thoughts’ simply flowed: “It very much felt like I was releasing,” Pierce says. “I had this visual of turning a handle and watching steam just pour out of the valve, relieving a lot of my artistic and personal anxiety. I was dealing with so much loss and feeling unsure and scared — and if there’s one thing I can rely on it’s the healing power of being an artist. I’m falling back in love with music. Creating this album on my own was a full-on long-running therapy session.”
Across a year and three months of home recording — with the same guitar, synthesizer, drum machine and reverb unit he’s played since the beginning of The Drums — Pierce put together ‘Thoughts,’ first in that apartment in Los Angeles and then later in his cabin in upstate New York. With help from engineer Jonathan Schenke (Parquet Courts, Mannequin Pussy and more) he gave ‘Thoughts’ a pop sensibility that added color and contrast to an already vivid self-portrait alive with the hyperdramatic emotional potency of the Smiths, the arch literary pop moves of New Zealanders like the Verlaines and the Clean, and the riotous clatter-punk power of the UK DIY bands of 1979. And this time around he’s introduced an slight influence from early drum and bass as well, drawn from his adoration of Roni Size and other electronic artists from the UK in the 1990s.
Now the highs are higher than ever, and the lows absolutely bottomless, and it’s the last song — the title track — that makes everything clear. The Drums are back, and while there’s a heavy sadness here, Pierce is stronger for fighting through it. On possibly the loveliest and catchiest song he’s got, Pierce takes his listeners to the edge of the cliff, and then drops everything but his voice, singing “Abysmal, abysmal, abysmal …” Some albums might offer a happy ending — even some albums by The Drums — but here Pierce just offers an ending. Because that’s more honest, isn’t it?
“There’s something in me that mostly prefers a sad ending,” he says. “The other potential title I had was ‘A Blip Of Joy,’ the opposite of ‘Abysmal Thoughts’ — if those two things don’t sum up the emotional chaos that I feel every day, then nothing will! But ‘Abysmal Thoughts’ wins because … doesn’t it always?”
Hoops was born in frontman Drew Auscherman ’s teenage bedroom as a solo ambient and beat-driven project à la Oneohtrix Point Never’s Replica. Auscherman named the band after the hoop houses at the nursery where he worked (not for his home state’s mania for basketball). Eventually he corralled a few of his friends to flesh out his songs, and the music inevitably shifted toward something new: more melodic, more guitar-driven, more extroverted. Fast forward to 2014, Hoops became a fully formed quartet. Since then, Hoops have released three cassette tapes and last year’s self-titled debut EP, which earned them praise from th e likes of The FADER, Stereogum, Gorilla vs. Bear, NME, and a track that hit #2 on S potify’s Global and U.S. Viral Charts .
The Indiana band craft hyper-melodic songs, built around power-pop chords, deceptively complex drum patterns, and rock-anthem sentiments that hide some tellingly dark thoughts. Three of the four members write and sing, each a frontman and a sideman simultaneously. During a live show, the bandmates can be seen frequently swapping instruments and positions on stage. The setup isn’t democratic so much as it is simply adaptable and committed: doing what the song demands, getting the sound just right.
Hoops’ full-length debut, Routines is a bittersweet and honest record that sounds both warmly familiar and jarringly distinctive. Whereas their previous releases were recorded on four-track tape machines in living rooms and basements (both their own and their parents’), Routines marks the band’s first sessions in an actual studio – namely, Rear House Recording in Greenpoint, Brooklyn with Jarvis Taveniere (Widowspeak, Quilt). Those sessions, however, were just one step in the band’s careful creative process. After a few months of touring, they returned to Indiana to set up their gear in Krauter’s parents’ basement and began experimenting with the studio-recorded tracks. Some songs they only tinkered with, others they scrapped completely and rebuilt from the ground up. They were determi ned to make a record that sounded like Hoops. The result is Routines, the sharpest and clearest delineation of the band’s sound thus far, drawing from and emphasizing each members’ distinctive influences and personal styles: four guys making music that is larger than themselves.
Hoops is Drew Auscherman (vox, guitar), Kevin Krauter (vox, bass), Keagan Beresford (vox, keys, guitar), and James Harris (drums).