Drumming. Is there anything more impressive than seeing someone play a ridiculous drum beat that leaves you gaping moronically and seething with jealousy? Guitar solos are obviously wondrous and arguably more expressive, but they are ten a penny. When a drum solo provoking absolute incredulity is witnessed (granted it is performed in small doses with instrumental breaks), a crowd reaction is usually much more exuberant. People will lose their shit at the sight of it; a person of supreme rhythmic abilities is usually a showstopper. I vividly remember, from the days in my teenage band, Beaver, how the Guernsey youth (and elders) would all marvel at our prodigal drummer, Spud, beautifully flailing his limbs as he soloed during a cover of Wipeout.
So, to the purpose of this blog: I have the utmost admiration for drummers, keeping a group of musicians together with impeccable timing and inventive rhythms. Putting the party piece solos to one side, it is the seemingly endless variation of beats, the tonal quality captured on record or live, the ability to completely turn a chord sequence or melody on its head, the movement it provokes from your body. I put down my adulation down to two factors:
- I don’t have a natural affinity with numbers. Mathematics causes me stress; my brain fizzles out with a defeated whimper when presented with a numerical calculation of any sort. Transposed into musical abilities, it means that rhythmic dictation has always been a complete pain in the arse for me. It quite literally does not compute. And yes, I’m aware that it is essentially just counting, but I’d be grateful if you could stifle your sniggers more quietly please.
- I’ve tried playing drums and it’s bloody difficult. How often in your life do you perform a daily task which potentially requires the use of both arms and legs, moving at different times and speeds? Why is the control of one’s limbs so tough?
With all of this in mind, I will now highlight a few songs where the drums sing to me for different reasons.
If you aren’t already acquainted with the genuinely insane abilities of our man in the picture above, Mr. Billy Cobham, then now is the time to break that duck (lord knows how you’ve been all trying). Ever since I was a young’un, I have never truly gotten my head around the intro to the great Mahavishnu Orchestra’s Vital Transformation; it’s where my terrible counting skills fully come to light. Anyhow, The Inner Mounting Flame is a masterclass in drumming; an astonishing tour de force of musical reverie.
A band I religiously listened to in my university days, RX Bandits boast a top notch drummer. And with Tainted Wheat, found on their album …And The Battle Begun, we find a man at the top of his game. Swerving between high energy technicality (the entire intro essentially, with particular attention to the bass drum work between 0.12-0.15), a juicy hip hop-esque beat (0.23 onward) and rolling snippets (1.05-1.06 of the chorus), the recording of his kit on this album is, for want of a better word, fat. The cheesiness of the American vocals may be grating at times, but look past it if necessary for the excellent thumping.
First and foremost, Dave Grohl is a drummer. And with his contribution to Queens Of The Stone Age’s deservedly vaunted album Songs For The Deaf, he gave, in my humble opinion, one of the finest drumming performances ever for a studio recording. I’m getting excited just writing this! This album sounds MASSIVE, largely in part to how extraordinarily well the drums have been captured. And when you’ve found the secret formula to bringing down monumental structures with your recording techniques, you should probably bring in a drummer with awesome talent to bash the absolute crap out of the kit. I don’t need too tell you how great this album is, nor is it a surprise as to which track Monsieur Grohl shines like a blinding ball of fire, but if you’ve been living in a windowless room with no contact with the outside world for the past twenty years, then absorb the beauty of this spectacle immediately. Duh duh de duh duh duh at 3.45; at 5.31, you may orgasm.
Don’t forget the excellent live version from the 2002 Glastonbury Festival, which my friend Jack unfathomably slept through while laying on the grass.
For some reason, this beat always sticks in my mind. And that’s all I have to say on the matter.
I devoted an entire post to this Chicago group way back when, but it would be criminal for me not to mention Maps & Atlases when it comes to drummers. Just listen to 1.24-1.51 of Ted Zancha and hopefully you’ll see why I couldn’t leave this out.
To sign off, I’m going to super controversially leave you with music that most of the general population would abhor, but what do they know? Dan Foord, drummer of SikTH, does not operate on the same plateau as most mere mortals. His limbs know no bounds, his mind unlimited in what beats he can conjure, his double bass drum skills particularly phenomenal. For those that cannot stand to sit through this normally, I ask that you simply hone in on the astounding drumming.
Firstly, 2.51 until 3.30 of the Let The Transmitting Begin version of Hold My Finger. The slowing of the snare and kick drum, followed by a subtle cymbal hit at 3.05-3.08; the return to a driving beat at 3.12; the lightning quick double bass blast at 3.16-17; the spine tingling roll of the kit between 3.20 and 3.22. It instills a sense of joy in me which I can’t fully define.
Secondly, Scent of The Obscene. Check the intro (up until 1.19) and then the glorious ending (3.57 onward). For a slower pacing, the middle section (1.51 to 3.25) demonstrates the breadth of talent on show here. Pretty sweet production too I might add.
As a bonus passing note: A band frequently cited throughout my previous blogs, Battles have amongst their ranks a drummer who is almost certainly a human metronome. John Stanier’s playing is completely on point and devilishly accomplished, therefore I would always heartily suggest wrapping one’s ears around first album Mirrored for drumming bliss and the punchiest of bass drums. To my untrained ears, the beats seem so perfectly knitted to the other instruments that they could be programmed in for complete matching. Watching this man perform on a stage is one of life’s small pleasures.