Brutalism is an album as petty as a suburban grudge and as cruel as a college prank. Frontman and last-man-standing Jonny Pierce has abandoned all pretense of the Morrissey-esque cleverness that let him get away with otherwise insulting lyrics on Abysmal Thoughts to make an album that is unrelentingly unpleasant.
We can all appreciate a fuck-off to a bad fuck, but the folky, painfully catchy “626 Bedford Avenue” (or as he petulantly refers to it in the second verse, “626 Stupid Avenue,”) comes off as near bunny-boiling levels of entitled vitriol. “Baby, let’s have a conversation/and God forbid we have a connection” sounds like someone yells at you when you decline to take their phone number on the subway.
But it doesn’t stop there. The title track’s “Baby by now, you must know/that this love is brutal” might have seemed romantic a while ago, but the promise that he’s going to “bet (my) life on one kiss” is how you wind up with him standing outside your house on Bedford Avenue screaming at you. It’s a shame, because the song has a delightfully pop-emo sound, but the effect Pierce accidentally creates by pairing these side-by-side is almost laughable.
The opening track “Pretty Cloud” does fascinating things, lyrically, with the cloud metaphor, but like a low-pressure system, the music that accompanies it is migraine-inducing, a seemingly random assortment of samples, never coming together in a cohesive unit. Pierce is capable of layering complex layers of sound like a rich trifle, but here, everything has been stripped bare, leaving just a handful of the ringtones that come standard on a Motorola Razr.
The lead single “Body Chemistry” is a wise choice, a bright splash of sincerity, an anthem for anxious times and an anxious life. It’s the sort of bite-off-and-savor taste that The Drums do so well. But sadly, it’s not indicative of what else is on the album. Not everything has to be pure pop, but nothing else on Brutalism even comes close to sounding like a complete song the way this one does.
“Kiss It Away” cribs a discount Johnny Marr riff and pairs it with messy drums and a vocal track that feels like it’s running slightly faster than the rest of the melody. “Blip of Joy” is a similar mess, with a melody line that feels like the caffeine shakes, hyperactive and unable to land on a focus point.
“Nervous” does something different, a standard ambling break-up song, perfect, I guess, for singing in the college quad at twilight as a means of attempting to appear interesting and deep. It’s the only track of that ilk on the album and as such, almost feels out of place, like the person who shows up at a fancy party in jeans. Not completely unwelcome, but doesn’t fit in.
If you want to recreate Brutalism, turn on the menu screen of any Sega Genesis game from 1992 and read aloud your angriest poem from high school. It’s catchy in places, sure, but so are bedbugs.