This is for everyone who loves and appreciates good drumming.
When I'm distinguishing average music from above average music, a good rhythm section is crucial. Or the equivalent of a rhythm section. I'm not saying all music has to conform to the bass guitar + trap set instrumentation in order to be good. But my musical roots run most deeply in classic rock, and for all my life I have appreciated good drumming. It's in my blood. And there's no bigger letdown than listening to an album in which it seems like the discussion during rehearsals went something like this: "...and you? Drummer? Yeah I'll tell you what you do. You kick on 1 and 3, you hit on 2 and 4, and you shut up. If you dare to draw any kind of attention to yourself I swear to god we will replace you with a literal metronome."
A drummer is a musician, not a time-keeper. It's a specialized skill set and it can definitely be both arranged and performed to a wide range of proficiency. Much like the purpose of my last music writeup, I wanted to illuminate some albums with excellent drumming which have gone underappreciated. I mean, there are plenty of albums with great drumming from famous virtuosos like Buddy Rich and Max Roach, or from bands with well-celebrated drummers such as Neal Peart, Danny Carey, Bill Bruford, Ginger Baker, Stewart Copeland, John Bonham, etc. I don't feel like any of these legends need any more credit than what they've already received from the musical world at large. But there are plenty of albums with drumming from musicians who are not household names which deserved to be praised for their excellence on the same level as those drummers, maybe not as individual performers but for the final artistic product they were able to produce.
The inspiration to make this list came slightly less orginally than the
other list. If I could remember or track down the article/publication
then I would link it, but a few years ago I did come across a list in a
similar vein as this. 'Albums with great drums from non-drummers' or
something to that extent. Although there are no entries in my list which
are shared with any entries in that list, to my memory. But I did
gladly borrow the idea of including the "best drum tracks" from each
album. What can I say, it was a good
I really want to emphasize that this is not a qualitative list of best drummers or best drum albums. It's not a ranking, and I'm completely sure there are plenty of albums and drummers which I'm overlooking or just not aware of. These are just good examples of such. In setting criteria for the list, I wasn't limiting myself to albums which featured excellent drumming on every single song. There are plenty of albums on this list with some songs that have sparse drumming or none whatsoever. But I was looking for consistency throughout the albums, which means disqualifying some albums with one excellent standout drumming performance on an album with otherwise standard or average drumming, such as Aja (for its title track), In the Court of the Crimson King (for 21st Century Schizoid Man), and Abraxas (for Oye como va).
(this might be TL;DR for some readers)I also felt like I needed to define my parameters to exclude percussion which didn't come from traditional trap set rock drumming. I feel unfortunately about this, but I couldn't come up with tons of examples of albums with really impressive non-standard percussion from obscure percussionists. I found it difficult to include electronic music, or Rap & Hip-Hop, or any kind of music which uses synthesized/machinated beats or rhythms or drum patterns. Even though it's music which is composed and created, it's not music that's being performed on an instrument by a musician in any way which could be considered "drumming" which is what this list is all about. It was much simpler to create this list with its parameters on a level playing field so to speak, so that things were easier to compare.
That being said, I need to give a special shoutout to a few albums with interesting/creative/excellently-performed percussion but which don't quite fit the mold of what this writeup is about: Fiona Apple's "Fetch the Bolt Cutters", Indio's "Big Harvest", Whiskeytown's "Pneumonia", Tom Waits' entire discography, and about half of Paul Simon's solo career.
I also had to define the idea of being "non-famous" subjectively. I don't want it to seem like I'm disparaging someone like Carter Beauford or Clive Bunker or any drummer in this writeup when I insinuate that they're "not famous." Some of these drummers were part of big groups and well-celebrated albums, and those who know who they are know that they're damned good. All I'm saying by putting them on this list is that they aren't as well-known or well-recognized as they ought to be. The same can be said for many of the albums as well as the drummers, most of them don't get the shine that they deserve. Some of them do but the drummers don't, which is the main point. Definitely tl;dr I apologize let's get on with it.
Here's the main list. I didn't mean for the time periods at which these albums came out to have such a relatively narrow range (only 20 years from oldest to newest) it just worked out that way. And I would hope this would go without saying but the "best drum tracks" don't necessarily correlate with the best overall songs on the album. Let's hit it:
American Football - American Football LP (1999)
Mathematical! American Football's first and best full length LP is as celebrated and beloved as any indie album. This thing is introspective, sad, sometimes even pathetic between the lovesick lyrical content and pitiful vocals of Mike Kinsella. At a glance it's not an album you might expect to see on a list like this. But the polymetrics the intricacy the complexity and the tightness of the drum patterns throughout this thing are so satisfying. The clean-toned arpeggiated polymetric guitar work also shines, but it would seem indulgent and inappropriate were it not for the foundation of the drumming rising to meet its level of complexity. Only 9 tracks, 41 minutes, but there's so much precise and interesting drumming packed into its moody beauty.
Best drum tracks: Honestly?; I'll See You When We're Both Not So Emotional
At the Drive-In - In/Casino/Out (1998) & Relationship of Command (2000)
Before The Mars Volta there was At the Drive-In. The post-rockers from El Paso, Texas had a pretty short run in their original carnation, but produced these two distinct and excellent albums. "In/Casino/Out" is my favorite between the two, and among all other AtDI and TMV albums as well. "Relationship of Command" is the more famous album, and is still quite good. Some people prefer the very polished high quality production of RoC, but I/C/O was recorded live in studio by the full band, giving it much more of an edgy, tightly constructed, more pure garage rock sound which is less dependent on production effects and techniques. Basically, I/C/O feels more pure and energetic while RoC feels more sterilized and detail oriented. It's a matter of preference but they both bring a lot of energy and intensity, very often letting the drums fly into wild fills and intricate, difficult patterns, especially in I/C/O. These are some high quality screamy thrashers, with a few slower and gentler moments tastefully sprinkled in.
Best drum tracks: I/C/O - Shaking Hand Incision; Transatlantic Foe | RoC - Arcarsenal; One Armed Scissor
Cloud Nothings - Attack on Memory (2012)
According to frontman Dylan Capaldi, famed producer Steve Albini didn't really do much to contribute to the process of making Cloud Nothings' undisputed masterpiece "Attack on Memory." My interpretation of that story is that Albini didn't want to mess with the band in their creative process, because they were really creating something special and did not need to be micromanaged. Broody nasty unapologetic and LOUD, but without straying too far from its pop rock influences either, "Attack on Memory" is a memorable and heavy handed gem of modern rock. The drumming is extremely aggressive and ambitious, and calls attention to itself usually without competing with or overpowering the other equally loud and aggressive instrumentation surrounding it. This is a breakneck paced 8-song 34 minute album of excellent performances from front to back, with every song feeling distinguishable, appropriate, angsty, and very well-executed. The lyrical content is worth its own analysis and discussion but this isn't necessarily the place for it.
Best drum tracks: the whole damn album, but the instrumental track Separation is the most impressive
Godspeed You! Black Emperor - Slow Riot for New Zero Kanada EP (1999)
Our dearest jessicapierce describes Godspeed You! Black Emperor pretty succinctly in her writeup in the band's node. Of all the albums on this list, I was on the fence about including "Slow Riot for New Zero Kanada E.P." the most. This is because the drumming doesn't necessarily stand above any of the rest of the instrumentation/tone/mood/concept of the album, the drums simply integrate. But they do so perfectly. Other more elaborate Godspeed! albums could be considered as well but the brevity of this one made it seem more appropriate, because every album of theirs including this one features long passages without any kind of percussion. But the tension, the transitions, the fills, the dynamic contrast, and the execution of the drumming is as pertinent here as it is in any album of theirs, and it probably still stands as my personal favorite single release of theirs for its method. It has this droning sense of darkness and uncertainty, mirrored against the socio-political overtones of the field recording, to create a truly sinister and even paranoid atmosphere which only Godspeed! could pull off this seamlessly.
Best drum tracks: well there are only 2 tracks
Joyce Manor - Joyce Manor (2011)
I described this album in the other recent writeup so I won't harp on it too much further here. But the drumming specifically matches and propels the overall energy of the album. It is definitely more inventive than the drumming you'll hear on a typical punk rooted album. It might not be as crisp and tight as some of the other drumming on this list, but it's certainly spirited and it doesn't feel sloppy by any means. It just feels a little dirtier, which is to the benefit of the album. On that note, one point I didn't cover in the other writeup is that the recently remastered version of this album is something I wouldn't personally recommend. Maybe it's because I've been in love with the orginal for so long but I can't help but feel that the muddier more distorted and less polished version of the album communicates its rebellion and is youthfullness much more effectively than the clean and pristine version. Again, maybe I'm sentimentalizing or just overly attached to what I've listened to for so long. The individual listeners should decide for themselves.
Best drum tracks: Call Out; Constant Nothing
Modest Mouse - The Lonesome Crowded West (1997)
There's only so much I can say about this highly praised and critically acclaimed album that hasn't already been said. There's plenty of great insight and information about it to be read elsewhere, including here. What I will say is that for a trio Modest Mouse managed to cover quite a lot of ground in their early years, including on this album. The drumming certainly takes a supportive role on several of these tracks with the album's variety of moods tones and dynamics. But in some instances the drumming really takes the lead. One of the album's major themes is driving and the persistent hard hitting drums fuel some of these key tracks, as well as on other tracks in which the drumming facilitates intensity or groove or somewhere in between. It's an ponderous and captivating 74 minute masterpiece which runs the gamut of negative emotions but which does so with purpose. But between the three musicians I would have to say that overall the drumming has the most technically impressive performances on this album and does the most work in inspiring the energy and momentum of this excellent excellent piece of rough-around-the-edges modern art.
Best drum tracks: Convenient Parking; Trucker's Atlas; It's All Nice on Ice, Alright
The National - Boxer (2007) & High Violet (2010)
The kings of sad rock for 20 years, The National have had access to a strong backbone for their gloominess within their rhythm section. The Devendorf brothers Scott (bass) and Bryan (drums) provide a necessary anchor that lends weight to musical vocal and lyrical themes which would otherwise be far too melancholy to digest (and which come off as such on some more recent tracks and albums).
2005's "Alligator" is awesome and very well-rounded, but 2007's "Boxer" is their concise and brilliant post-rock masterpiece, and the drumming performances really stand out on this one. "Boxer" is a fairly short record but it feels as though there's more breathing room than on any other National album. The arrangements are tastefully and digestibly straightforward. Which is not to say that every one of Bryce Dessner's more ornate arrangements is not tasteful or successful, but the catchiness and cleanliness of this album is just so appealing without sacrificing attention to detail and production value. And Bryan is really in his wheelhouse here - the drumming is solid and tight and momentous, repititiously patterned but not boring, more hypnotic than flashy, and there's an emphasis towards snare toms and kick and away from cymbals, which generally appeals to me. The drumming is muscular without being too beefy, and the openness and mild echo of the recording space (a rented house a la Exile or Honky Château) really lends itself well to the bareness and darkness of this beautiful album.
2010's "High Violet" is a step below "Alligator" and "Boxer" to me (and to most fans I'd imagine) but it still deserves recognition for some standout drumming, even in the weaker tracks. This was the last National album to comfortably fit under the umbrella of rock music. The drum patterns and tendencies have a lot in common with "Boxer" but with more lush and complex arrangements surrounding it, sometimes to the benefit of the songs and sometimes not. While it's a comparatively imperfect record the best tracks are very memorable and enjoyable, and the drumming stands in proportion with that.
Best drum tracks: Boxer - Squalor Victoria; Apartment Story | HV - Bloodbuzz Ohio; Lemonworld
Opeth - Ghost Reveries (2005)
There are really several moments in Opeth's career which could be placed here. 2008's "Watershed" was Martin Axenrot's first album as Opeth's drummer and it really is impressive in that regard. The first few albums known as "the Candlelight albums/years" came before the band really hit their stride but are far from underwhelming. But I chose to go with one of the albums featuring beloved drummer Martin Lopez from their most famous era. While the other albums which featured him definitely had their moments and their merits, I went with the last one "Ghost Reveries" for its balance and consistency. Incidentally this was also lead guitarist Peter Lindgren's last album with the band, and it was their first album on Roadrunner records and their first album with keyboardist Per Wilberg. So definitely something of a crossroads album. But Lopez really went all out on these tracks. Somewhat aided by the fact that these songs were arranged and rehearsed beforehand as opposed to being mostly created in studio like all their previous albums, "Ghost Reveries" really does feel like a perfectionist's final draft. The virtuosity and the creativity, paired with Opeth's well known tendency to switch between extremeties of intense metal and gentle melodic lullabies, is really optimized on this album. Even though I've come to hate The Grand Conjuration to the point that I sincerely feel like it nearly ruins the album, everything else is really well-executed. This includes the tracks which feature no drumming, and the drumming on the lighter track Atonement is also very interesting and very good. But certainly where the drumming really shines is on the more anthemic and dramatic heavy hitters. There's been lots of debate and criticism within the metal community over just how "black" or "death" or "prog" this brand of metal is. But whatever genre associations or preferences you choose to get caught up in, I'd simply call this great.
Best drum tracks: Ghost of Perdition; Reverie/Harlequin Forest
Q and Not U - No Kill No Beep Beep (2000) & Different Damage (2002)
From a 4 man band on "No Kill No Beep Beep" to a trio on "Different Damage", the drumming consistenly steals the show on experimental rock band Q and not U's two best albums. They appropriately made their home on the celebrated Washington D.C. based Dischord Records, a label full of indie punk rock and post hardcore misfits. While the band's tenure was relatively short and finished with a truly awful album in 2004's "Power," these other two albums really packed a punch and have left a legacy of influence for a lot of the genre's successors. One might accuse drummer John Davis of trying too hard or playing over his head at times with some dropped notes here and there. But no one can doubt his ambition and his uniquity. The mathy polymetric patterns combined with the intensity and persistence really give a good foundation to all the sporadic wild and often harsh guitar and vocal work layered on top of it. To someone who can tolerate how dissonant aggressive disarming and downright weird the music can be, the drumming is as fun as it is impressive, and "Different Damage" especially is bursting at the seams with notable and relistenable songs from end to end.
Best drum tracks: NKNBB - Fever Sleeves; Hooray for Humans; We Heart Our Hive | DD - Soft Pyramids; Black Plastic Bag; Recreation Myth
Rodan - Rusty (1994)
I already noded about this album more extensively years ago (and totally forgot about doing so) so I'll just hit bullet points here. Bob Weston, after whom the album is named, engineered this album. He is a beast. I give him credit for influencing and encouraging the beastly drumming featured here where appropriate. This is especially true when the album is compared to its mixtape predecessor "Aviary," in which differing versions of all "Rusty" songs appear. The first three songs really do overshadow the last three, but all the songs have value and lend themselves to the overall portrait in their own way. The drumming is extremely busy thoughout, with so many different notes (or hits as it were) packed into every measure. The pacing is all over the place and the tones are dark, but the album has its gentler moments as well to create a good balance and to not make it seem like the only volume is loud. See my writeup for further reading.
Best drum tracks: Shiner; The Everyday World of Bodies
Shellac - Dude Incredible (2014)
Speaking of the beast Bob Weston, and also of the famed producer Steve Albini, they have a side project called Shellac with drummer Todd Trainer. 1994's "At Action Park" could've comfortably been included on this list, but to be honest it feels a bit too similar to "Dude Incredible" which I feel is the marginally superior of the two albums. Describing themselves as minimalist, Shellac is what you'd expect from a muse of a side project among high quality producer friends. It's a musician's kind of music - no fluff, no gimmicks, no attempts at showing off or even making money. Just a trio of famous friends playing for fun. And it happens to be really good. I don't want to do too much to describe this because there's a lot of power in its simplicity. Any and all fans of rock should give this a listen. The drumming speaks for itself, showing mastery in the sense that you can make simple ideas go a long way.
Best drum tracks: Dude Incredible; Riding Bikes
Streetlight Manifesto - Everything Goes Numb (2003)
I don't really bother myself much with ska music overall but I respect the hell out of Streetlight Manifesto. I respect them for standing their ground in the face of a toxic relationship with their terrible and heartless record label to which they're bound in contractual obligations, I respect them for their work eithic and for their years and years of relentless touring, but above all I respect them for their skill. Granted Tom Kalonky is not a great vocalist but he makes up for it with his songwriting. And yes, to someone who's not accustomed to the genre this music can all start to sound the same after a while (I certainly felt this way at first). But there's no denying the technical ability of all the band members to play this music at such a frenetic pace, and the drumming might be the most impressive in that sense. The entire band's discography might have reasonably been included on this list for great drumming, if only they were better more consistent albums. But "Everything Goes Numb" is clearly their best and most enjoyable from end to end. It gives a slightly greater sense of variety than the other Streetlight records, with standouts like Failing Flailing, A Moment of Silence, and their best known song A Better Place A Better Time, each giving a different look from what can be considered their typical sound. But as I noted, what makes the drumming most impressive throughout this record is the speed of the tempos. This just makes it all the more impressive to think this was a band that played over 200 shows a year back in the day. Again, the other albums have their highlights and are worth investigating, which very much includes their reworking of the Catch-22 album "Keasbey Nights" but "Everything Goes Numb" is the best album to start with and the best overall.
Best drum tracks: That'll Be the Day; A Moment of Violence
There you have it. Here's the relatively short list honorable mentions. The format is Artist - "Album" (year) & "secondary Album" (year) additional/anecdotal information
Jeff Beck - "Blow By Blow" (1975)
Dave Matthews Band - "Crash" (1996) & "Before These Crowded Streets" (1998) & pretty much any live album
Jethro Tull - "Aqualung" (1971) & "Thick as a Brick" (1972)
Mass of the Fermenting Dregs - "Mass of the Fermenting Dregs" (2008)
Melvins - "Bullhead" (1991)
The New Pornographers - "Twin Cinema" (2005)
Pantera - "Vulgar Display of Power" (1992) & "The Great Southern Trendkill" (1996) & other albums with the 'classic' lineup to various extents
Phish - pretty much any live album
Porcupine Tree - "In Absentia" (2003) & "Fear of a Blank Planet" (2007)
Sepeltura - "Arise" (1991) & albums before "Arise" to various extents
Soundgarden - "Superunknown" (1994)
Spin Doctors - "Pocket Full of Kryptonite" (1991) (don't laugh I'm serious this thing has funky and solid drumming throughout)
This Town Needs Guns - "This Town Needs Guns" (2008)
While most every entry in this writeup adopts a very hard and loud sound, I would still recommend all of the above for avid rock 'n' roll fans. As I get older I feel more and more passionate about the importance of lending some shine to great and underappreciated music. We'll see if I can come up with any more ideas along this line of thinking, but suggestions in regard to this writeup or for other future ideas are more than welcome. Hope you learned something, and happy listening.