Reviewed by: Lauren Rosier
It’s been two years since the release of The Districts’ sophomore record, A Flourish And A Spoil, their third overall, second on a label (Fat Possum). Flourish was a breakthrough record for the quartet, one that earned the Philadelphia-based band recognition from many music outlets, and exposed them to a larger, mass audience.
On Popular Manipulations, the four-piece takes a different approach by focusing more on the production and arrangements, leading to a bigger, fuller sound. The writing and recording process for Popular Manipulations began with vague ideas, but once the concrete ideas began flowing, they were able to write and record fairly quickly.
In late February, the four-piece previewed the follow-up to 2015’s A Flourish And A Spoil by releasing the lead single, “Ordinary Day”. This track showcases a different side of the band and takes them from a breakthrough band to a heavy influencer amongst the indie rock scene.
The Districts strategically open Popular Manipulations in a huge way with the track, “If Before I Wake”. The song makes a huge statement in regards to how the four-piece has changed gears on this record. The track’s droning guitars, rhythm section, and lead vocalist Rob Grote’s searing vocals showcase the band’s move to a heavier, more distinct sound.
Lyrical themes of intimacy, sex, possessiveness, and dependency are explored on the track “Violet” – and it is shown how they can be used in a manipulative way. The track is buzzing reverb and chugging drums while Grote ruminates “what doesn’t last will get remembered/what doesn’t last is good to miss/and what doesn’t last/gets stuck in your throat.”
The indie rock outfit takes elements from tracks like “If Before I Wake” and incorporate those elements into the latest preview from the record with the song “Salt”. A soaring delivery of reverb-soaked guitars, shimmering synths, and pounding drums, “Salt” is another piece of the band’s blossoming career, one that makes a huge statement into the band’s creative growth.
The new, fuller sound from the quartet continues on songs “Capable”, where thunderous drums and infectious guitars take precedence, and Grote’s sings about love and relationships (“since the separation/my love has been amused/can we spend the night together/I’ll pick up the papers we need to sign/and bring them with some wine”), and coping with the heartache that sometimes accompany them.
From the charging electric guitars, intense drums, and Grote’s raw vocals, The Districts deliver a solid, intensely beautiful, and cohesive record with a thunderous intensity and originality. Popular Manipulations is the first chapter in the band’s next installment of their career.