Words by Eric Gasa
The lines of The Districts’ third full length record, Popular Manipulations could not be more honest with itself— “Would you start to miss me, would you start to miss me? Or am I all alone? No. I’m just a narcissist.”
The lyrics sound clumsy in print but when coupled with the marching cadence and ballooning guitars of the song “If Before I Wake”, they become part observation and curse for lead singer Rob Grote.
On Popular Manipulations, Grote and his band champion hazy guitars and self-deprecating lyrics like indie rock heroes, Wolf Parade. It’s an anachronistic sound for a band in the year 2017 but it’s a welcome shot of nostalgia to back when the best bands were Canadian and signed onto SubPop.
The Districts craft anthemic songs for long winter nights. Foggy, shoegaze guitars interlock with rustic acoustic chords, churchy pianos, and Grote’s wordy poetics. Together they make sweeping gestures out of the smallest emotional nuances and romances.
Grote’s voice drones like Spencer Krug’s; steadfast, yet a moment away from quivering. The comparison is especially uncanny on “Will you Please Be Quiet Please?” when Grote sings “Mother relax/Mother get off my back/It was only that I didn’t understand.”
“Why Would I Wanna Be” laments like a Bon Iver song with an alien heartbeat before escaping into the golden guitar sound of “Airplane”.
Though some song arrangements on Popular Manipulations border on indie rock cliché, the band keeps the rhythm sounding sharp in a genre that has been almost entirely played out. Electrically charged synth flourishes perforate moments, giving some songs more punch, while Grote sings of family, fate, old love, and new hate with the sound of a tired soul.
Popular Manipulations is a decent record with a proven sound; not really a revolution as much as it is a reevaluation of our indie rock tastes. But the guys in The Districts aren’t exactly looking to blow you away as much as they want you to sit in a quiet place with this record and stare out the window. Popular Manipulations is not exactly life changing; it’s life affirming.
While everyone is making slacker rock, The Districts are busy standing in the fog, hearts on their sleeves, and writing indie ballads like it’s still 2005.
© August 11, 2017
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