Shattered windows and the sound of drums

So I’m not normally one for paying overdue attention to the percussion. Or at least I, traditionally, never was. Guitar riffs and blaring tone, convoluted melodies and stonkin’ bass, these things always seemed to interest me more. More of a guitar hero than a drummer, and a mildly competent bassist more than either. Sitting on a tiny stool, back arched, hitting the same ol’ thing never really connected with me to the extent that running around a room playing the bassline to Paranoid Android did.

However, I cannot deny my appreciation of a particularly beaty song. There are some rhythms that do manage to over-ride my brain’s natural desire for riffs, and these particular percussive tracks I feel I must praise. So I have made a tiny list of a few of my favourite drummers, along with their key track.

Recall, I am not a man skilled in knowing about drumming, so this probably won’t turn out too well. Eh.

Band: Radiohead

Drummer: Phil Selway

Key Track: 15 Step

In Rainbows I like to refer to as Phil’s album. 15 Step is a rhythm I find impossible to ignore, the 5/4 overlapping of electronic and acoustic drumming plus the syncopated clapping will suddenly appear in my head at random moments and I have to start tapping a table just to get my fill. Radiohead’s dreary, melancholy image omits the skill of Selway’s drumming, and his ability to get a crowd really pumped if need be, and that’s a damn shame. I could name a few more tracks on top of 15 Step, the drumming on The National Anthem is particularly amazing at being subliminally dance-worthy, whilst There There exquisitely combines layers of forceful toms over the top of Selway’s snare-heavy beats. But I think 15 Step does an incredible job of putting the drumming at the forefront, and really giving the listener a rhythm to fixate on as opposed to the ordinary guitar lines.

Band: Portishead

Drummer: Computers/Clive Deamer

Key Track: Machine Gun

The whole genre that Portishead helped to cultivate, trip hop, would be nothing without harsh, sampled drums. Portishead in particular were at the moodier, darker end of the spectrum, and the drumming had to allow for Beth Gibbons’ tortured vocals while still maintaining a groove. It does so incredibly well, the drum tracks being addictive, but never overwhelming the other instruments or the overall mood (the likes of Mysterons particularly showcasing the talents of the multi-instrumentalists on board). But the key track is Machine Gun, partly because as the lead-off single from Third it had to showcase their new direction, mostly, however, because it’s just so bloody abrasive. It jarrs and catches, like rusty gears turning. It insults and degrades the listener and the music around it and it sums up both the title of the track it is on, but also the whole mood of the album, as it guns down all in its path. This is not your Father’s Portishead. And all the better for it, in my opinion.

Band: The National

Drummer: Bryan Devendorf

Key Track: Brainy

Go to YouTube. Type in “The National Brainy”. Click the first result. On 0:09 the durms come in. Punchy, complex, ever-changing, shaping and somehow improving the simple guitar and dull keyboards that back it.  By 0:24, when the vocals arrive, you are hooked. Or at least, you are if you’re me, which I’m going to assume you aren’t (dismissing temporarily the fact that I’m gonna read this back later). Devendorf’s drumming keeps the head nodding, keeps the audiophilic mind interested no matter what is going on around it. It dictates like good drumming should, determing when a song shold be urgent and restless, or when a track should be light and soothing. It needs to be experienced in good quality, so you can feel every effort that has been put into the pace of the beat. Apartment Story and Abel are also worth a listen to give an idea of how a reptitive drum line can inventively keep a song going.

Band: Bloc Party

Durmmer: Matt Tong

Key Track: Helicopter

It’s always good for a band who choose to seep themself in politically-charged music to really sound passionate. To sound as though every note is a rage against, well, whatever they choose to rage against. The anger of Helicopter would not be what it is without Tong’s insistent, quick-fire drumming. Nor would many of their songs be quite as skilled in relaying the principles of classic British rock without his two poweful guiding hands. Probably the main reason I put him here, away from the pounding scale of Banquet and the majestic sweep of The Prayer, is that during a gig in Atlanta in 2006, he put in a performance so energetic that he suffered a collapsed lung. That is the kind of rock drummer we need, one who gives so much of himself he puts vital organs at risk.

The drummers I have missed out (for there are surely many), well, they’re probably better, more skillful, have more enduring songs and rhythms, but I didn’t think of them first, so what of it? Nick Mason pounding through Money’s 7/4 dystopia, Dominic Howard telling us how to really showcase an epic album opener on Take A Bow, Dave Grohl feeling and feeding the angst of the surrounding instruments on In Bloom. You all deserve to be here. But sorry, I didn’t think of you first.


About Alex Pavitt
I work in the field of emotion. My tools are instinctual feelings and my laptop is the medium between my brain and the outside world. I deconstruct and rebuild. I imagine. I steal other people's lyrics because somtimes, my own words aren't enough. I spend all of my time somewhere inside my head. I worship Douglas Adams, and in the back of my mind I am always painfully aware that I will never be as good as him or, for that matter, anybody else.

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