Hype and publicity can often play both hero and villain for surging musical acts. It seems that as of late, certain artists and their respective popularity are the results of crafty PR work, major label dollars and upscale style and fashion rather than their work and music. NY’s Interpol might fit that mold – what, with their expensive haircuts and tailored suits it’s easy to dismiss them as another clever marketing scheme. Do we have to brace ourselves for The Strokes all over again? Thankfully, the only similarity between Interpol and The Strokes is the probability that they have taken a cab in NYC. No, Interpol have been around for quite some time in fact, toiling in obscurity before Matador picked them up and released a short self titled EP.
While the reviews and buzz surrounding their full length effort Turn On the Bright Lights has been overwhelmingly positive, it is with merit and justification. Upon feasting your ears on this eerie, enigmatic triumph, you can easily understand why so many will feature this as a year’s favorite. It is powerful, vibrant, moody and dark while evoking similarities to the likes of Joy Division. To the untrained ear (read: Joy Division? Never heard of them) Interpol’s full length is chock full of bristly guitars, chunky beats and rhythms that are complimented by Paul Banks oft gloomy but very vibrant voice. Loaded with the very accessible (their single “PDA”, replete with foot tapping beats and some loose sounding guitar work), almost tragic sounding (the opening “Untitled”) and a mish mash of punk sensibilities and relentless echo-like melancholia, Turn On the Bright Lights simply oozes musical sophistication.
Traces of Strokes-esque arrangements may be found in “Say Hello to Angels”, but there is nothing “retro” about it. It in fact, paced by the frenetic vocals is more akin to modern dark room ambience and post-‘whateveryoulike’ music. In “Obstacle 1”, Banks’ fades in and out of harsh vocals while the music is often just as energetic – it however paints a brooding, glum picture in one’s mind when listening to it. It is quite unlike the track “NYC”, while it is delightfully composed, its lyrics are quite strange and awkward. After the first listen, it sounded as if Banks was singing about porno and the subway – and upon lyrical investigation, he does in fact sing, “The subway she is a porno.” Maybe this reviewer just isn’t hip enough to understand.
Nevertheless, in painting an entire picture, Interpol has more than lived up to whatever hype may have preceded them. They remain truly passionate to their work and the collection they title Turn On the Bright Lights is a beacon of their triumph. While Matador (having once “sold their souls to the devil” – their “partnership” with Atlantic back in the early to mid 90’s) is by no means a mega corporation in the music industry, they are well tested in it. Perhaps that is why some may suspiciously question the hype and press, but in reality it is the music of Interpol that has created this often two faced enigma. In this case, the face of hype is that of a hero.
The Ritualists – Painted People
The Ritualists play some determined, strong-willed music
After listening to Painted People by The Ritualists, I was very surprised to learn that this is their debut album. This band shows a maturity in their music that I would not expect from a first album and provides inspirational sounding tracks with ‘reach for the stars’ type of guitar riffs. I hear a modern version of U2 in The Ritualists, along with an influence of Radiohead. Their songs are full, wholehearted post-punk hooks with a lead singer that has a sizeable range.
“Rattles” opens the album, and it’s the type of song that shows their audience that they are here to stay. It has a great build-up of excitement and intensity. The band explains that this song is “A combination of dark, deep-pocketed verses juxtaposed with big, flashy choruses is a key element to tracks”.
“Ice Flower” and “Worthiest One” welcomes an electronic wave to the album and showcases just how impressive lead singer Christian Dryden’s range is. His ability to hit those high notes with such conviction puts my falsetto abilities to shame. “Worthiest One” brings this sort of nostalgic feeling- it’s a rock ballad with a floaty guitar riff.
“She’s The Sun” is a great follow-on from “Worthiest One” as it transfers the mood upwards and directs the music into more of a hypnotic vision, which conveys “the band’s inner Sixties Love Child”. “I’m With The Painted People” has a really relatable background to the song. Dryden felt a larger than life inspiration from people like David Bowie and Simon Le Bon, these artists felt like soulmates, which can be lonely at times. It wasn’t until he ventured out into the clubs of the lower east side of New York which helped him feel comfortable to express his creative vision freely. The song is all about finding like-minded people.
There are hooks galore and catchy choruses in pretty much every song. “With this record, I’ve specifically tried to be anthemic,” admits Dryden. “I’ve always loved going to shows, where immediately after the performance, and even on the ensuing days after, you just can’t help but remember and sing the songs you’ve just heard. It’s almost like a higher form of communication.” The Ritualists play some determined, strong-willed music and Painted People shows hints of variations with different genres explored throughout. They sound motivated and in return have produced motivating music for their listeners.
The Decline – Flash Gordon Ramsay Street
What The Decline get absolutely spot-on is their clinical, unrelenting brand of skate punk
It’s possible that since punk broke through to the mainstream in the mid to late ’90s, listeners outside of Australia think Frenzal Rhomb are the only band to have come from the lucky country. It’s true that during the rise of that Epitaph and Fat Wreck sound, Frenzal Rhomb became the namesake of the genre from Australia. However, Australian punks know that their history stretches long before the release of Survival of the Fattest. From the legendary sounds of The Saints to the rock n’ roll infused punk of Radio Birdman, Australia’s punk rock history is not only rich but very much precedes the genre’s mainstream explosion.
Frenzal Rhomb were another chapter in punk down under and for many, they opened a lot of doors. If not at the very least, proved that there were fertile grounds for new bands to emerge across the vast land. Western Australia’s The Decline formed in 2005 and quickly showed their talent for writing up-tempo melodicore that shred as much as it soared. From their 2010 debut, I’m Not Gonna Lie To You, it was clear that the band were equal parts snotty, urgent, funny, and melodic. Like the Frenzal Rhomb formula, they’ve got all of it in spades with a mean streak of Australianness that is both endearing and extremely relatable. Their latest album is no different.
From the title alone you can tell you’re in for a shedload of fun, and while it’s easy to think that Flash Gordon Ramsay Street is just goofy humor, it’s actually got a lot of pointed commentary too. From the animal-supportin’, veggie-lovin’, attack on meatlovers and meatheads (“Brovine”), to the real-estate market questioning “Smashed Avo”, there’s plenty of current talking points that The Decline run through. Sure, you also get vegan buffalo wing recipes (surprisingly, not the song titled “Bullet With Buffalo Wings”) and a love for The Legend of Zelda, but who says you can’t sing about Marxist theories while talking about your love for Nintendo?
What The Decline get absolutely spot-on is their clinical, unrelenting brand of skate punk; taking plenty of cues from the best of the NOFX / No Fun At All up-tempo, hardcore-derived brand of punk. The hooks on Flash Gordon Ramsey Street are as infectious as horny teens on spring break, highlighted by the endless harmonies on songs like the terrific “It Was Always You” and the call and response male-female vocal attack of “Verge Collection”. Brevity is also key, as the majority of the songs here never overstay their welcome with the longest clocking in at just 3:15 (the wistful closing of “Josh”).
Flash Gordon Ramsey Street is concise, to-the-point, and a furious medley of skate punk urgency that is relevant to young adult life as punks in Australia. Great production values to boot mean you can’t go wrong here.