Pianos Become the Teeth - Drift (Cover Artwork)
Staff Review

Pianos Become the Teeth

Drift (2022)


Maryland's Pianos Become The Teeth are definitely one of the bands I'll always have a soft spot for. They've painted such pained, emotional records, with The Lack Long After really up there as one of the best I've ever heard. Interestingly, while they've shifted from that screamo-post hardcore aesthetic to a softer post-rock/shoegaze style, one thing still stands out: frontman Kyle Durfey's ability to chart heartbreaking lyrics and evoke that fear of mortality we all have inside, much like Jeremy Bolm from Touché Amoré. Well, with PBTT's fifth full-length Drift out, fans are once more intrigued by how this tempered down sound is working for them, eager to see if this less aggressive dynamic still resonates.

Well, it's definitely a tough assessment for me personally, given what I've invested in them. I flew to the States a couple times to catch them (quite expensive when you're coming in from the Caribbean), and while younger me would have preferred the grit and rage of old, me in my late' 30s does appreciate these calmer tunes. They're made for long drives, sunsets and the moments of contemplating life, so by now, you should definitely be comparing Drift to Keep You and Wait For Love -- and nothing else. It's simply two different eras, two different personalities and overall, two different characters in terms of PBTT.

That said, PBTT do need to define more what this new sound is. I understand it's fluid and always evolving as art, but quite a few songs feel disconnected, or like prologues of songs prior. I don't mind melodic continuity but take for example, "The Tricks," which lacks an identity, and just feels tacked on to "Genevieve." The latter, though, has its own thing, with David Haik's drumming as usual, driving the record on and adding to a surprising hard rock edge I think the band should focus on more. Think Queens of the Stone Age, which sets "The Tricks" up nicely, only to see it feel like, well, a weird interlude that doesn't fit, or breathe into "Easy." 

Admittedly, it's a teething out process bands like Turnover, Ceremony, Superheaven and Title Fight struggled with, as well as We Were Promised Jetpacks. I know it's a vastly different jump, but Arctic Monkeys and Arcade Fire also struggled when they shifted tonally and sonically to achieve balance, but one would think by now, after changing up gears from 2014, PBTT would feel more assured, confident and less experimental.

Now, don't get me wrong, songs like "Skiv" are a brilliant slow burn (by PBTT's standards) which is what I felt the band would fully sound like after tracks of old like "Fake Lighting," "Repine" and "Charisma." This track really sets the haunting mood, builds a suspenseful, pensive ambiance and has that tension Durfey wants as he waxes on about family, life, love and loss -- the usual motifs. This kind of soundscape allows PBTT to work in the Mogwai style it wants, but still slip the passion and flair in of "I'll Get By" or heck, "I'll Be Damned" -- some of their best from a decade ago.

Yet for some reason, the tracks don't flow together like the novel Durfey's picturing. There's actually more consistency if you chop the 10 songs up and release it them, EP by EP, themed. Ultimately, this robs Drift of an intensity and sense of urgency in its flow, bottling out and fading a bit too much, too fast. That said, I do love the emotional progression of the band's storytelling, Durfey's voice (which sounds way healthier and fuller without the screaming) and when the band does dynamically mix signatures. It's best embodied on the three closing tracks, which really redeem a record that's not bad by any stretch of the imagination. And one, even without this trifecta, would still be more palpable than half the drivel on the market.

"Hate Chase" evokes a garage sound buzz, nodding to early At the Drive-In, giving PBTT a little punk corner to play with, while "Buckey" courses through like a Thursday jam with its screams and dual vocals. Last but not least, "Pair" has that shimmery landscape to wind the album down like that quiet, last gulp of Scotch. Together, they remind me how tough it is to finesse these messages for younger audiences, and those older ones on the precipice of that twilight. And while Drift might not be that loud, that fierce or stoke fires of old, it'll still be quite a cathartic experience I hope to catch live. Is it their best? Far from, but not their worst, which again doesn't say much because bad PBTT is still a gem to behold -- and no cap, no matter what, their music has never ever gotten that disappointing.