“There’s always been a lot of pressure and tension on the line. If ‘Pi’ didn’t work out, I have no idea what my career would be. I don’t think I would have gotten another shot at it. If ‘Requiem for a Dream’ didn’t work out, they would have called me a ‘one-hit wonder with a sophomore slump’.” – Darren Aronofsky
‘Sophomore’ and ‘slump’ must be the two words an artist least wishes to see cosying up together, with their relationship in popular culture depicting the difficulty one experiences when liberating their second release. Whilst it’s perhaps unfair on the Drums to suggest that Portamento bears as heavy a weight upon their future as ‘Pi’ upon Aronofsky, ‘second album syndrome’ has afflicted many a worthy band before and will continue to do so. But, before the guys sink into an icy pit of despair, we mustn’t forget that some artists have used their second release as a springboard and it’s fitting that 2011 marks the twenty year anniversary of one of the finest second albums, Nirvana’s Nevermind. So, one asks, where does Portamento lie?
Opener ‘Book of Revelations’ reveals the band are still driven by pulsating bass lines, frosty background electronics, bittersweet guitar melodies, aching vocals and the desire to write fine pop songs. This is something to hearten the legions of floppy haired fans that so eagerly purchased the band’s eponymous debut.
This formula provides the foundation upon which the majority of the songs found on Portamento are built. Standout tracks include the Smiths-esque ‘Money’, which comes with a fine delayed effect in its bridge, the synth drenched ‘Searching for Heaven’ and the slightly morose pairing ‘Please Don’t Leave’ and ‘If He Likes It Let Him Do It’. It is these darker moments that provide the greatest interest. For here the Drums suggest a gradual move towards the more gothic sounds of Depeche Mood, Cocteau Twins and Faith-era Cure. Any such movement though is in its embryonic stages. This means that, whilst it’s a good record, Portamento has the feel of a band in between sounds, one uncertain of whether to stay with what they know or to venture where they feel they should be.
I was fortunate enough to be able to review the Drums self-titled debut, concluding that it could see them become enormous. My conclusion for Portamento is that it finds the Drums in neither a sophomore slump, nor bouncing off the springboard, but somewhere in the middle.
Words: Damo Girling