Pianos Become The Teeth have really gone a distance since their early days. They used to be one of the pillars of rigorous, emotional hardcore alongside the likes of Touché Amoré and La Dispute, though that’s effectively out of their system altogether now. 2018’s Wait For Love felt like the turning point, where shoegaze and post-rock overtook the classic-leaning screamo that had been their standard up to that point, but in a way that wasn’t the best. It’s not an album that’s particularly withstood over time, standing out for what it represents within Pianos Become The Teeth’s evolution as a band than any musical ideas it had itself.
That’s definitely understandable for the first dedicated step into the waters that’d ultimately be where this band stays. It also explains why Drift is a marked improvement, in simply being a much cleaner union between Pianos Become The Teeth’s more reserved atmosphere, and music within that that still manages to connect. Drummer David Haik is responsible for some of the biggest standout moments, both in a percussion tone that has a really fascinating concept of restraint in how it clicks and rattles without ever overpowering like on Easy, but as shown on The Tricks, can still erupt with a lot of precision and intricacy. There’s also a lot of even bass work from Zac Sewell on Genevieve and Buckley, keeping together a rhythm section has a much more prominent involvement when the guitars are largely kept watery and rippling.
It’s something that ultimately works in Drift’s favour though, in the clear acknowledgment of its own negative space and how Pianos Become The Teeth allow that to flow and bleed outwards. It’s why a song like Hate Chase, in a mould of a more standard emo number in tempo and overall heaviness, feels like a departure that strays too far from what’s set out elsewhere. More reminiscent of a Wait To Love cut, it highlights how fine the balance is overall, and how well that line is toed pretty much across the board. Drift comes out as a far more effective example of the post-rock impulse coming to the fore and being handled with a lot of care to get the best results.
Of course, the ‘moments’ of shine mentioned earlier prove to be the operative case on Drift, as is the case with a lot of albums of this style. It’s more than the sum of its parts, that much can’t be denied, but those parts still exist in a state where they don’t always feel equipped to really leap out, as opposed to wash by without some anchoring presence. Not exactly a rarity in post-rock then, but it’s just a shame that, particularly towards the album’s end, Drift can live up to its title with regularity. There’s the aforementioned pieces of texture and the saxophone trail whispering through parts of Skiv; otherwise, the reliance on falling into the atmosphere is well-telegraphed, though also well-done. This isn’t an album strongarmed by its own prudence, at least not to the extent its predecessor was; rather, Pianos Become The Teeth really sink into their creative groove effectively, and helmed with production to emphasise the shimmer and cleanliness, but ultimately keeps out of the way.
As for frontman Kyle Durfey, his is a similar case of offering more to the album as a whole than in individual pieces. His voice is probably best described as ‘serviceable’ for music like this, somewhere among a recognisable emo mid-range and Morrissey in some of his more arch flourishes, armed with characteristically oblique lyricism that seldom remedies Drift’s glaring lack of hooks. Granted, he’s never an outright bad presence to have, given that he’s pretty much following exactly what he needs to for music like this, and coming out of it decently enough. There’s a reason he’s this far down in terms of talking points and overall evaluation; it’s not a contribution that’s too elevating of what else is here, even if he does carry himself with a good amount of gravity. More often, he fits better as a part of Drift’s tableau, carried along by its own pacing and helping in carving out the shape it’s going for.
It’s certainly pulled off better than it was previously, as a far more well-rounded step in Pianos Become The Teeth’s evolution. Even if they still aren’t hitting significant heights (or measuring up to where their former peers still are now), they’re making music that’s far more gratifying and substantial; they really have taken where their last album stumbled and reworked it pretty spot-on. It feels fresher and better attuned to what Pianos Become The Teeth want to achieve in this current phase, and that sort of progression is always worth supporting when done this well.
For fans of: The Hotelier, Foxing, Balance And Composure
‘Drift’ by Pianos Become The Teeth is released on 26th August on Epitaph Records.
Words by Luke Nuttall