Jacob Graham (left), and Jonny Pierce
  • The Drums
  • Jacob Graham (left) and Jonny Pierce.

"We're not classically trained musicians; we don't know how to play chords on a guitar," says Jacob Graham, cofounder of stylish Brooklyn band the Drums—a band that totally has a couple guitar chords on its new album, Encyclopedia. Their touring guitarist was hired to provide the "flowery" multi-string work, explains Graham over the phone on an off day from Detroit, but some of it was "kind of meant to sound bad. Like almost comically bad at times."

"Me and Jonny [are] just picking away until something happens, and then we're able to—with modern technology—just do a thousand takes until it sounds right, or perfectly wrong or whatever."

As professional music-makers, the Drums, who headline Neumos on Thursday night, have never relied on technical wondery to get their point across; they sail past most tech-rockers on a boat built of sleek aesthetic, cutting melodies, and an infatuation with gloomy lyricism. Singer Jonny Pierce can carve a dirge into the back of a helium-light pop song, either with scalpel-scrawled musings like "They might hate you, but I love you, and they can go kill themselves" (from "Let Me," which is a song about the tribulations of the Russian LGBT community), or the simple wordless vocal harmonies that are at once gorgeous and hopelessly sad.

"I think we just like that contrast, and to us, that's something that makes it interesting," says Graham. "We've always been drawn to really sad music, and any sort of art. We always think the saddest thing is the most beautiful thing."

That interplay, coupled with their nostalgia-soaked lo-fi production, bought them online buzz and critical praise in 2009 with the release of their Summertime! EP, and continued to build in 2010 with their imaginative self-titled debut. They toured relentlessly, causing tension within the group, and ended with the departure of guitarist Adam Kessler. The Drums powered on regardless, and wrote what may be their masterwork, 2011's Portamento, mostly on the road. For a band that could seemingly crank out music that spoke to everyone with minimal effort, the subsequent four-year break between the release of that album and their newest was out of character, to say the least, but one Graham says was necessary to the health of the band.

Support The Stranger

"We always knew that we'd make another record," he says. "We were kind of on tour for a solid three and a half years, and all that recording and releasing stuff. It felt like when that came to an end like, 'Whoa, you need to stop for a second or this next record won't be any good.' So that's what we did. Everything always felt so rushed…and we wanted to make a record we could really take our time on, and that's what we did. We spent a long time making Encyclopedia, and we're really happy we were able to do that."

Though the striking minimalist songwriting of the early days can still be heard at their core, the songs on Encyclopedia have been expertly dressed with more creative (though still mainly analog) effects than ever, and take turns you would have never expected from the band who made the simple-pleasure cult hit "Let's Go Surfing." This was no accident.

"Everything we've ever released up until Encyclopedia was so consistent, you know; we spent so long establishing our sound, and we felt like we really established it," says Graham. "So we thought it would be fun to bend all those rules we'd set up and finally expound upon that sound we'd established. Our idea with Encyclopedia was to not be totally consistent throughout."