If you wished the Drums would have detoured from the eighties synth-rock they’ve been pumping for almost eight years now, you’re gonna be really disappointed. Portamento is full of the same Joy Division-esque bass-thumping and keyboard-bellowing that original members Jonathan Pierce and Jacob Graham’s spilled on their debut, as well as their project Elkland that disbanded right before the dawn of this duo. However, if you happen to be a gigantic fan of the Drums, or at least mildly enjoyed last summer’s critically-acclaimed self-titled album, you’ll probably view this record as more of an exercise in growth for the Brooklyn act. This time, the quintet come more into their own own by focusing even further on those little touches that make a song (such as the simple finger-picking in the middle of “Days”) and by cranking more dance beats (such as “What You Were”) than they ever offered on The Drums.
Whereas their debut opened with the minimalist synth track “Best Friend” that resembled the cheesiness of an arcade game soundtrack, Portamento dives into the Drums’ new, fuller sound with “Book of Revelation,” showing off their ability to harmonize over quick, punchy guitar stabs, which is the M.O. of the entire 12-track span. Minus the middle track, “Searching for Heaven,” which rides a wave akin to Pink Floyd’s “On the Run” (yet unfortunately doesn’t nearly go into anything as awesome as “Time”), Portamento is packed with the sonic neutrality Pierce and Graham have always loved but come closer this time to perfecting it. The movement from from the quiet ramblings of a strings section at the end of “If He Likes It Let Him Do It” into the bass-centered “I Need a Doctor” is by far the highlight of the album, proving the control all five of them have over their sound a mere two years into their forming.
There’s a point on “Searching for Heaven” where Pierce sings, “I found the difference between what I wanted it to be and what it will always be,” and it makes you wonder if he’s unhappy with the results here. If he is, he shouldn’t veer too far from this Cure-esque sound. Portamento is a bigger and better step in the same direction.