THE DISTRICTS Popular Manipulations gets 8.5/10

The Districts
Popular Manipulations
Fat Possum/Inertia

8.5/10

The Districts return with big boots to fill on their third LP Popular Manipulations. Their last album A Flourish and a Spoil was a winner and took them to a broader audience. Have they filled those boots and delivered another great album, or will they find themselves in the wrong district?

The Districts originally formed as high school students in 2009. After releasing their first 2 full lengths Telephone (2012) and A Flourish and a Spoil (2015), it’s safe to say they are no longer just another young, angst-filled teenage band. They have grown older, experienced heartbreak, possessiveness, anxiety, manipulation and many other dark things that plague the conscience of many a made man. This album explores these themes with some excellent music, consisting of some thick rhythm, wonderful guitar and bass work and powerful vocals that spiral up from the depths of the rhythm to deliver some very deep and poignant lyrics.

John Congleton (St Vincent, Swans), considered by some to be something of a genius, produced A Flourish and a Spoil. He has produced four of the eleven tracks on this new album, so we know we’re in for some good work. Fans may already be familiar with single Ordinary Day. Lead singer and guitarist Rob Grote stated that the song “deals with ideas of loneliness, alienation and going through the motions in life”. This is certainly characterised through their music video for the single, which shows the band clad in black performing lifelessly for people in white masks. The song is full of some very poetic lyrics, “On your own, picking through lilacs/ Covered in gold and kicking through the bellyache”. The lines “Ordinary sunset/Ordinary day” are repeated, which certainly lends its hand to the theme of the song. It’s an awesome track, something of a lynchpin for the album.

Throughout the album I kept thinking of The Wombats. They sound like an American version of them, while they also sound a little like Franz Ferdinand. Many of the riffs, strong bass lines and powerful vocals would fit perfectly in place on The Wombats second album This Modern Glitch (2010). Much like The Wombats, the instrumentation is really complimented by excellent lyrical themes. The first track of the album If Before I Wake deals with narcissism: “Would you start to miss me? /Or am I all alone? No/ I’m just a narcissist/ I’m just a narcissist”. It’s a great track, which starts with some really tension building vocals, which sets the scene for what is quite a tense album.

Violet has an acoustic guitar overlaid by an electric and deals with how intimacy and possessiveness can be used in a manipulative way, with the repeated “Violet you’re mine” line sticking in my head long after the first listen. Salt is a stand-out track, a bass driven number in which the guitars play second fiddle to Connor Jacobus’ thumping bass line. Again, some very deep, poetic lyrics: “the little birdie with the broken wing/why does it taste like salt”. Grote’s vocals when he sings this line are truly haunting; you can really hear the emotion in his voice. The vocals and thumping bass are also complimented by the synth that the song is lathered in.

There is the odd filler track. Why Would I Wanna Be is an acoustic number that failed to stir me much, but while it may be filler, it’s still a nice little track.

Throughout, I kept finding myself drawn to the thick bass lines. Point is a heavier number, and Capable, driven by a real ‘dumba-dumba-dumba’ bass line stood out a lot. The track seems to be exploring the themes around a break-up: “Since the separation, my love has been a muse/ Can we spend the night together.”

Fat Kiddo, a little down on the volume dial from previous tracks Point and Airplane, strikes with its deep lyrics, “The slide flips to the next/ Backlit we all see the sky/ Skinny branches veining out/ Blue afternoon”. Great lyrics are something that a lot of bands are short on these days, so it’s always great to see a lot of love and effort in the words. It’s a beautiful number musically and lyrically.

The album ends well with Will You Be Quiet Please?, and the door is closed on a well rounded album from start to finish, although if one gives it a deeper listen and takes in the lyrics it may provoke some darker thoughts.

CALLUM SYNNOTT

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