The Drums were the kind of nostalgic indie-pop band that made people want to jump for joy. Even if you were left jumping at the idea of being broke (on 2011’s “Money”), the despair didn’t matter, because the output found happiness in the condition. But after a tumultuous three-year lull that saw a founding member leave the band and ambitious solo projects from singer Johnny Pierce and instrumentalist Jacob Graham never materialize, The Drums decided to create Encyclopedia, which comes across as more of a cathartic experiment for them than more of what their fans had come to love.
The album’s opening track, “Magic Mountain,” is a harrowing composition that sets a mood of despair and solitude. Much like the eponymous Thomas Mann novel, Pierce juxtaposes the remote mountain in the Swiss Alps with the secluded New York lakeside cabin in which the album was recorded: “Inside my magic mountain/ We don’t have to be with them.”
The humanity of their desolate state is brought forth on the scaled back “I Hope Time Doesn’t Change Him,” one of the best moments on the album. The track seemingly transports you to a musky couch in a dark and grungy practice space with a shoegazy guitar riff and the signature backing vocal “oohs” of The Drums. On “Kiss Me Again” and “Deep In My Heart,” we’re also brought back to The Drums’ familiar doo-wop-pop, but it lacks the same infectious “jump-for-joy” ability their music has created in the past.
It’s easy to get perplexed in the intrinsic themes of the record like on “U.S. National Park” and “Bell Labs,” largely because they seem disjointed and out of place. “I don’t want to die alone by the campfire,” Pierce croons on “U.S. National Park” and “I saw the face of God/ He showed me how to live/ I threw it back at him” on “Face of God.” It hints at a developing complex for the band; one where they’re trying to figure out where they stand as a unit and the accompanying personality fluctuations. While Encyclopedia has some redeeming moments, it ultimately mirrors this complex in its many wavelengths.