Coney Island is beautiful in winter. Really. The boardwalk is well populated by elderly Russians pickling in the sun, surly teenagers, and tourists anxious for an off-season taste of Nathan’s Famous (no lines!). If you’re lucky there are still fishermen on the pier, which is a great place to relax and just dangle your feet—near the historic Childs building, KeySpan Park, and the Parachute Jump that’s been described as Brooklyn’s Eiffel Tower. Just don’t go in the water, or ride the amusements, or “Shoot the Freak.” The Island in winter is bustling, if bleak.
And perhaps there’s no better way to describe The Drums, the full-length debut from the indie-pop band of the same name: a Labor Day hangover; a bonfire snuffed by cool breezes. The Brooklyn four-piece set out to “write original pop songs and not get caught up in the trends and the fads,” singer Jonathan Pierce told New York magazine, perhaps speaking of the (ahem) wave of surf bands that have washed up in the last few years (and released records in 2010), including Best Coast, Wavves, and Surfer Blood—who all seem to take their beachfront monikers a little more literally. The Drums stand out because of their downcast attitude—more Morrissey and Marr than Frankie and Annette—which could give them staying power long after the tide flows.
Opening The Drums with “Best Friend,” Pierce mopes. “You’re my best friend, but then you died, when I was 23 and you were 25,” leading to a melancholic trill: “And how will I survive, survive, survive, survive?” So he hasn’t completely mixed up his seasons, he’s just gloomy in the summer. “And every day, I waited for you, and every day, on the hood of your car,” he adds, at home with his ghosts and boarding his share house before August. The Drums’ breakout, the top-down cruiser “Let’s Go Surfing,” is driven by perky bass and an infectious whistle that Peter, Bjorn, and John would lose their swim-trunks over. “I wanna go surfing,” they sing, but the song isn’t about hitting the waves at all—it was written amid the bliss-out of Obama’s inaugural, an affair that Pierce saw as an excuse to hug everyone. It’s also one of the more upbeat songs on their debut, written while Pierce lived in Brooklyn and his best friend from childhood, guitarist Jacob Graham, lived in Florida. The two had threatened to start a band together for years, and when Pierce moved south they started writing together, before they hightailed it to Brooklyn, recruited drummer Connor Hanwick and guitarist Adam Kessler, and released the Summertime! EP in September 2009.
If nostalgia is a temptation, then The Drums is a melting treat from Rudy’s Italian Ice. The low-level bass and tambourine that drive much of the record leave a hankering for an earlier, easier time—if, in hindsight, a warped one. Remember, Grease and Happy Days were both filmed in the ’70s. For neo-nostalgics, that vintage year might be 1983—when MIDI was novel and OMD released Dazzle Ships. “I thought my life would get easier / Instead it’s getting harder, without you,” Pierce sings, tracing a finger over the past on “Book of Stories.” And like the deserted boardwalk after Labor Day, The Drums considers loss. But those splintered, herringbone boards are just as comforting in boots and thick socks. With “Down by the Water,” a Sha Na Na–style retro ham, Pierce entertains an end-of-camp dance (maybe an homage to bunks where Pierce and Graham met as kids). “If they stop loving you, I won’t stop loving you,” he sings, as if getting down on one knee. “You’ve gotta believe me when I say—when I say the word ‘forever.’”
But what does “forever” mean at 25? If anything, The Drums is proof that a couple of chords and the memories they bring us will last as long as the wooden roller coaster or the Wonder Wheel—which is to say, they’ll outlive us all. The Drums were smart to release the record digitally at the beginning of summer, and physically in fall—a memento, like a snap in the photo booth, to keep.