Popular Manipulations

Review of The Districts 'Popular Manipulations'

Our Rating

7.0/10

Hitting their third record, Pennsylvania indie-rockers The Districts, certainly have a sense of theatrics on their record. Consistently emotionally strong and sonically impressive, the true test of their strength usually falls into arrangements and writing. On a record that works more than it doesn’t however, it’s usually more of a shame that the flat songs feel so empty.

Opening with an epic growl and harmonic chant on “If Before I Wake,” the cries quickly turn to an impassioned riff as the guitars come in. The tumbling melodies and brutal emotion behind the vocals create a momentum that make each hook all the more fun to hear. “Violet” bursts with an instrumentally dense hook and b-section, both feeling as enveloping as the other. The steady thump of drums and the second verse’s energetic thrust forward craft a song that delivers again and again.

Given the obtuse melodies that start “Ordinary Day,” it’s a bit stranger to get into at first, even as the other instruments sneak in. As the low-end and guitars start their fall however, the directional energy finds the track picking up, while not quite matching the album openers. “Salt” bounces back and forth on damaged melodies, while the rhythms build a steady thump to push them along. Working better than any solo, or even many of the verses, the instrumental breaks carry such emotional depth, they’re occasionally hard to endure.

“Why Would I Wanna Be” shifts to lighter ground, as their alt-folk tones move at a menacing pace. The haunting vocal warps and the twisted movement of the melodies create a constantly moving beast that grows all the more intimidating as it moves along. Switching onto a harder rock edge, “Point” has a rough grunt in its crackling guitars. The broken-hearted finale that crashes with fiery aggression also shows a band able to pull out all the stops lyrically while at their most heightened instrumental moments.

Moving with all the same parts and fury, “Airplane” never quite clicks as well as the rest of the record. The shrieking guitar hook, while memorable and evocative, just can’t carry the otherwise blander feeling composition. While “Fat Kiddo” opens on sparse and somewhat unsure footing, the dense and enveloping heft of its bass purrs make for a terrifying atmosphere. The extra harmonies and windy blips show just how much a simple dynamic change can elevate a track.

“Capable” moves along with a delightfully light stomp, and utterly magical hooks, but they all feel so disconnected it and without weight that it’s hard to feel completely satisfied. The individual moments are great while the overall piece feels like a constant build to nothing. Tighter on “Rattling Of The Heart” they have ugly and cutting guitars that feel like they could melt iron. Even with the demented bass runs however, the track feels like too many indie rock songs on the radio to work outside of a live setting. Closing on “Will You Please Be Quiet” they have a much stronger sense of composition, as they fill out each section of their sound in the filtered magic. The wondrous final scream of voices and synths creates an outro that’s perfect without being cliché and one that brings back all the strongest elements of the record without the looser writing.

Words by Owen Maxwell