When New York post-punk band Interpol burst onto the indie music scene with their masterpiece Turn on the Bright Lights in the wake of the latest form of New York music revivalism created by the frenzy over The Strokes, the band was lauded for representing something different. The band’s music, drawing from a different pool of post-punk bands than The Strokes and their ilk, namely Joy Division and New Order, was macabre and atmospheric, and most importantly, more genuine than the music of other New York bands. While The Strokes acted and sang like they were doing coke with supermodels in the basements of seedy nightclubs, Interpol didn’t need to sing about it; it was simply implied by the way they played and looked.
The band’s 2004 follow-up, Antics, was far from a sophomore slump, with many songs being released as singles, the album was all together more accessible for the average music-fan, but lacked the intensity and atmosphere of Bright Lights. Following the major UK chart success of Antics, and a steadily increasing fan base after consistent touring, Interpol left the label that released their first two albums, famed indie imprint Matador, and jumped ship to the evil empire of Capitol Records for their third album Our Love to Admire. The early prediction for Our Love to Admire was that the band was going to go way out on a limb, and go in an entirely different direction from Antics, not unlike the changes Joy Division went through in the short time between their first and second albums. Then came the deal with Captiol, and predictions shifted to the band making Antics 2, just banging out a couple of nice singles and calling it a day. Our Love to Admire is neither, as it finds the band expanding it’s scope with increased production, more instruments, and longer songs, and at the same time, it’s a calculated move towards the middle of the road, with the band going out on few limbs, and relying on their past success.
The album starts with “Pioneer to the Falls,” a song that was clearly made for the band’s festival gigs, and (cross your fingers) Madison Square Garden gigs, with the band sounding more like U2 than Joy Division, it is a slowly building arrangement, and has stadium-ready vocals. While still featuring the band’s signature dark elements, the song has an oboe in the intro, an instrument never meant to be played by anyone other than nerdy guys who can’t play the saxophone in high school band: it most certainly should not be on the third album by the coolest rock band on Earth. Tracks like lead single “The Heinrich Maneuver,” which crackles over a pounding syncopated drum riff played by the band’s best kept secret, drummer Sam Fogarino, “All Fired Up” which features an updated take on Television’s snaking dual guitar riffs, and “Mammoth,” recall the band’s best songs, but seem phoned in, lacking the intensity of their past singles.
Lead singer and songwriter Paul Banks, seems to have taken a firmer control over the band with Our Love to Admire, as the vocals take front and center, as opposed to being merely part of the musical composition on the band’s past releases. The only problem is that Banks’ lyrics are pretty out there, and when they were veiled by the music on past releases, the listener didn’t have to think about them at all, and if they did, couldn’t explain what he was really singing about. Now, with the singing up front, the lyrics become important. On “No I in Threesome,” Banks laments about how he is coaxed into a threesome with his girl and finds himself left out of the sexual experience. On “Rest My Chemistry,” Banks sings about doing coke, having sex in hallways and not being able to bring himself to have sex with a very young groupie. Now, interesting topics, but I swear, these are the same themes on R. Kelly’s latest album. Not exactly stuff you’d expect from a cool rock band. The main problem with the album, is the fact that the band seems to have become self aware, and are certain that they’re good enough to pull off three minute outros like on “Wrecking Ball,” or that they are good enough to add some orchestration on nearly all the tracks. The band has apparently forgotten why they were so great in the first place: they wrote three-and-a-half minute, terse post-punk songs that crackled with some unforeseen intensity that couldn’t be explained, it needed to be heard. Instead, they now want to write 7 minute orchestral pop songs that become tired after three minutes and two listens. What happened?
So with Our Love to Admire, Interpol reaches for more fans, expands their atmospherics, and fall flat on their face trying to be U2 instead of Joy Division. Now the band will be faced with the everlasting question of indie bands who jump to major labels: is it better to have complete creative control and the ability to experiment at an indie label and have a small group of devoted fans, or is it better to have increased distribution, have to deal with label politics and demands, and have a bunch of un-devoted fans?
Berwanger – Watching a Garden Die
Josh Berwanger continues to evolve as a songwriter
At the height of Vagrant Records’ early success in the late 90s, the label was buoyed by the incredible draw of their two biggest names- The Get Up Kids and Saves the Day. And while those two bands took a chunk of the notoriety, there were plenty of great bands that called the label home. One of those bands was The Anniversary. The Lawrence, Kansas band shared musical similarities with both TGUK and Saves the Day, but were unafraid to branch off into slightly more synthesised terrain that gave their songs an added element. Coupled with their super easy to digest harmonies and fantastic male/female vocals, songs like “The D in Detroit” still has a place in countless “favorite playlists” all these years later.
Since their initial break-up, guitarist and vocalist Josh Berwanger has been busy writing and recording a bevy of music under the moniker Berwanger. His recent discography is a talented kaleidoscope of songs that traverse genres from folk and indie, to more rock and straight forward singer/songwriter fare. There was plenty to like on his 2016 album Exorcism Rock, an album that delved into a little bit of psychedelia and fuzzed out indie rock. His 2017 album And the Star Invaders saw a gradual move away from the more electrified to the imaginative kind of singer/songwriter we’ve seen from the likes of Devendra Banhart. True to form, Berwanger continues to evolve as a songwriter, and his latest, Watching A Garden Die, is the next chapter in his thriving songwriter cabinet.
The gloomily titled record is mostly upbeat and diverse. While he may have shown a kinship to indie/folk songwriting of the Banharts and Obersts of the world previously, Watching a Garden Die features the kind of seasoned and more classic toned work you’d find on a Crosby, Stills & Nash record, or even a Paul Simon record. Songs like the softly, almost whispered “Even the Darkness Doesn’t Know”, and quietly moody, introspective “Paper Blues” (until that electric guitar solo hits) harks back to a time long ago of unfettered hair and soulful folk music. The album’s best moment is probably a combination of the wistful, pedal-steel toned Americana of “When I Was Young” and the equally effective, spacey indie rock of “The Business of Living”. The latter giving Grandaddy a run for their money in that music department. These two songs in particular showcase an artist fully aware and capable of his abilities to craft music that’s personal but exhibits the kind of draw you want from a record this close to the heart.
The album doesn’t have the more ruckus moments Berwanger exhibited in his earlier work (outside of perhaps, the more upbeat power-pop, new wavy “Bad Vibrations”). At times the album takes just a few listens to grab you. But when you listen to songs like the spritely “Friday Night” and the somber reflection of the twangy “I Keep Telling Myself” a few times more, you find the depth of the record. There are elements that reveal themselves on the second, third, fourth listen, and that’s rewarding.
Berwanger’s songwriting ability was never in doubt, and his new material continues to expand his songwriting reach. Watching a Garden Die, while not a frantic effort, is quiet composure.
Fences – Failure Sculptures
Failure Sculptures is a steady outing
Christopher Mansfield, under his alter-ego, Fences, has made himself well known through the collaborations with Macklemore and Tegan & Sara. It’s set him up with well-deserved excitement for his new album Failure Sculptures. The genre of pop scores a good reputation with artists like Fences. I wouldn’t necessarily categorize this album as pop, but Failure Sculptures has catchy songs that will appeal to a large scale, however it keeps the integrity of accomplished music. Each song provides a story that allows you to drift into your own thoughts. He also uses idioms like there is no tomorrow.
“A Mission” is a lower-toned song that launches the album with an echoing sound of voice and guitar, and it sets an example of the whimsical type of music that is shown throughout the album. Mansfield has a way with words and was definitely listening in English class. A+ for storytelling. OK, you twisted my arm, I’ll point out some idioms: “body sways like trees in a storm” sung in “Paper Route” and “lately I just pass by like a cloud” heard in “Brass Band”. It’s a great way to paint a picture in your listeners head.
“Same Blues” exposes a folk side to Fences. It has a lovely addition of cello in the background. It is enchanting and flows so well, which makes a terrific inclusion to the album. The plucking and acoustic sound of “Wooden Dove” has a powerful effect, and suits the song well. It follows the theme of echoes and storytelling. Although “War Kid” is a song about divorce, it is a pleasant way to end the album, and it features more idioms; “tears falling like bombs“.
This type of music allows you to drift and flow in and out of your own thoughts. It’s a friendly haunting and emotionally driven set of songs (and don’t forget about the idioms), and while it is quite predictable in a pleasant way, Failure Sculptures is a steady outing.