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 thrive in the in-between. The Indiana quartet craft hyper-melodic songs, built around power-pop chords, deceptively complex drum patterns, and rock-anthem sentiments that hide some tellingly dark thoughts. Their full-length debut, Routines, sound both warmly familiar and jarringly distinctive. A kernel of ache lies at the heart of each verse and chorus: nothing cynical or pessimistic, just bittersweet and honest. Not knowing the right way to do things, they came up with their own way-a solid DIY philosophy. "We had an idea of how we wanted our music to sound, but we didnt always know how to achieve it," says Drew Auscherman, who plays guitars and keyboards, writes and sings. "There was always some exploring and figuring things out, so it took some time to get to what we wanted to sound like."
Hoops are a self-taught band that started in Auschermans teenage bedroom, where he obsessed over Oneohtrix Point Nevers landmark 2011 album Replica, to the extent that he started making his own beat-driven music. He named the project Hoops after the hoop houses at the nursery where he worked (not for his home states 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. The high schoolers played basement shows for their friends, mostly cover songs with a few originals thrown into the setlists. "We really sucked," says Auscherman with a laugh.
"It was completely amateur, but so much fun," adds Kevin Krauter, who plays bass and guitar and is one of Hoops three songwriters and singers. "We were writing songs here and there, even though none of us even knew how to write songs." Crammed onto makeshift stages, memorizing others songs while developing their own, the musicians developed a buzzy chemistry that would draw them inexorably together even after they had grown up. "It was just a natural thing that we all ended up doing this together," says James Harris, who plays drums. "Weve always been each others go-tos for band members."
Hoops remained only a loosely defined band, with members coming and going-some lasting only one show. Eventually the current line-up settled in: Auscherman and Krauter, Harris and Keagan Beresford. (Jack Andrews, of the Bloomington band Daguerrotype, counts as an occasional touring member.) Three of the four members write and sing, each a frontman and a sideman simultaneously. The setup isnt democratic so much as it is simply adaptable and committed: doing what the song demands, getting the sound just right.
Their first releases-three cassettes and one EP-were recorded on four-track tape machines in living rooms and basements (their own and their parents), with the band piecing everything together with determination and resourcefulness. Those tapes became popular well outside the Hoosier music scene, even attracting the attention of Fat Possum Records, which signed the band in 2016. "Theres a lot of trial and error and frustration," says Beresford. "If theres a song or even just a part of a song that you really like, then pick a vibe and shoot for it. You try to get as close as you can to what you have in mind, but you invariably fuck up along the way. But sometimes the fuck-ups are what make the songs."
Routines marks the bands first sessions in an actual studio-namely, Rear House Recording in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. Working in that environment with Jarvis Taveniere-who co-founded the influential indie band Woods and produced albums by Widowspeak and Quilt-was initially a rocky experience, but they quickly adapted to the new environment, the new procedures and perspectives, and most of all the new possibilities.
Those sessions, however, were just one step in the bands careful creative process. After a few months of touring, they returned to Indiana to set up their gear in Krauters parents basement and began experimenting with the studio-recorded tracks. Some they only tinkered with, emphasizing different sounds or recording different parts. Other songs they scrapped completely and rebuilt from the ground up. They were determined to make a record that sounded like Hoops: to ensure the music sounds as rich and nuanced on tape as it did in their heads and, as Auscherman explains, "to make sure everything catered to the song rather than the song catering to the production."
"Were all in the same headspace," says Krauter. "We all have a hand in devising a sound and arranging the songs, whether we wrote them or not. First and foremost, were just trying to get a song to sound right, because thats how the emotional message is going to get through." The curiosity and perfectionism motivating those sessions in New York and especially in the Hoosier State make Routines the sharpest and clearest delineation of the Hoops sound thus far, drawing from and emphasizing each members distinctive influences and personal styles: four guys making music that is larger than themselves.

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