Sound — 6
Even with earning reputable praise as brand new vanguards of 21st-century new wave, The Drums have never seemed to be truly safe or stable, having teetered on the brink of complete disbandment numerous times. Founded by childhood friends Jonny Pierce and Jacob Graham, who first entered the music scene with their small stint as the electro-pop outfit, Elkand, The Drums fullest lineup was at their inception, with drummer Connor Hanwick and guitarist Adam Kessler. After the release of their anticipated debut self-titled album, Kessler bowed out, reducing The Drums to a trio. Then, after almost breaking up during the first half of 2011, The Drums released their follow-up album, "Portamento," to mixed reception. Near the end of 2012, Hanwick left the band, bringing The Drums back to the first founding members, and at that point, Pierce and Graham saw little reason to keep The Drums going. Pierce started paying his attention to releasing a solo album in 2013 as The Drums stayed pretty quiet, but after an extended writing session at a secluded cabin, The Drums would re-emerge in 2014 with their third album, "Encyclopedia."
While Pierce and Graham started to write "Encyclopedia," they claimed that they had learned how to have fun again with making music. And it's a combination of that and the most breathing room The Drums have had between releases that makes "Encyclopedia" sound noticeably different, as opposed to the identical nature between "The Drums" and "Portamento." The most obvious change found is the heavier usage of synth elements, which likely came from Pierce and Graham thinking back to their electro-pop days. Loops and flourishes light up "I Can't Pretend," "Kiss Me Again," "Let Me" and "There Is Nothing Left" and help enrich their new wave vertebrae, and the duo decide to really break away from the expected sound of The Drums with "Bell Laboratories" - a trippy, analog-filled experimental song that sounds like something that could have been made by How To Destroy Angels - and the closing synth-pop ballad "Wild Geese," which was originally written by Graham as a solo effort.
On the other hand, "Encyclopedia" still keeps a foot firmly planted in the new wave sound that The Drums had started with; however, after feeling the refreshing nature of the aforementioned tracks, the standard Drums cuts come off like an uncreative stumble. Tracks like "Magic Mountain," "I Hope Time Doesn't Change Him," "Break My Heart" and "U.S. National Park" bank on the whistling synth tones used in their previous work, and "Face of God" and "Deep in My Heart" sound like echoes from "The Drums"; and while listeners that prefer those debut album days will be thankful for these tracks, in this album's essence of attempting some changes, these tracks ultimately feel stifling.
Lyrics — 6
In the last song of The Drums' previous album, frontman Jonny Pierce sang "and I could write a thousand more songs about you," and with that premonition, he follows through, because the lyrics in "Encyclopedia" adhere to the exact same formula as The Drums' previous lyrics. Pierce still offers his perpetual sorrow and lethargy by the fistful, like a house on Halloween handing out candy from the same industrial-sized bag that was purchased four years, and the listener can taste the staleness in the same "no reason to live without you" subject material with grandiose woe-is-me-isms and a surplus of adversative conjunctions (like "I know I'm supposed to forgive you/but I don't know how" in "Deep in My Heart," and "I thought that we were important/but we don't matter at all" in "There Is Nothing Left").
Aside from the homogeneity of the lyrics coming off as indistinctively interchangeable rather than conceptual, there are some displays of weaving lyrics together. While not ongoing throughout, the biggest motif in the album is set in the opening "Magic Mountain," where the narrator refers back to the ideal seclusion of the mountain in "I Can't Pretend" and "Face of God." Pierce also makes some solid callbacks to earlier material - the rambling of "get back in the car" in "Bell Laboratories" acts as a sequel to the "I got into your car" line in the "Portamento" song "What You Were," and the cold weather motif in the "Portamento" songs "If He Likes It Let Him Do It" and "In the Cold" is echoed in the final "Encyclopedia" song "Wild Geese" ("and feel the cold a little more than I did/ more than before"), so at least in spite of the overbearing sameness in lyrics in "Encyclopedia" compared to The Drums' earlier albums, Pierce makes some attempts to tie similar lyrics together instead of just unwittingly repeating himself to oblivion.
Overall Impression — 6
Whether it's because of the fact that this was the longest break The Drums had between releases, that Pierce and Graham have an "us against the world" mentality with their band, or just a general case of art through adversity, "Encyclopedia" feels like a substantial step towards something new. Whereas the lackluster "Portamento" suffered the sophomore slump due to its monotony reducing it to "The Drums, Pt. II," "Encyclopedia" offers the biggest change for The Drums yet, and it's a change that helps revitalize their music for the better. There are still plenty of kinks to work out, and there's also a sense that The Drums aren't entirely willing to travel out from familiar waters yet, but them showing a desire to branch out from their beginning emulation phase into a broader horizon of sonic opportunities makes "Encyclopedia" a wishful foreshadowing.