The Districts - Popular Manipulations

by Jim Cunnar Rating:8 Release Date:2017-08-11

Popular Manipulations, the third album from The Districts, shows the band moving further away from the alt-country sound of their debut Telephone and sophomore effort A Flourish And A Spoil. Popular Manipulations has new found heft due to the band's continued exploration of their influences, particularly the drone heavy sound of shoegaze and early 70s John Cale.

While extensively touring their sophomore effort, lead singer/guitarsit Rob Grote kept recording demos, which eventually coalesced into four songs which were recorded with producer John Congleton, who produced Flourish. The remainder of Manipulations was self-produced by the band, a move which I applaud, considering Congleton’s considerable influence on their sophomore effort.

Popular Manipulations has a Killer’s Sam’s Town vibe at the center of it, with branches of Wolf Parade and early Arcade Fire coming off the core. Lead-off song “If Before I Awake” starts off with the monotone chant “Thunder woke me up, it was storming in the city, I was suddenly wide awake”, before Connor Jacobus’ bass crashes into the lyric “Would you start to miss me, would you miss me? Am I overblown? No, I’m just a narcissist”.  The self-reflective kick in the teeth sets the tone for the album.

Follow up “Violet” maintains the vibe nicely, with Grote blasting the lyric “What doesn’t last, will get remembered.  What doesn’t last is good to miss. What doesn’t last is stuck in your throat, and what doesn’t last gets swallowed whole”.  It’s synth-heavy, it’s big and it’s bold.

“Point” is the highlight of the album, with the chorus ‘The point is besides the point now’ soaring high above the distorted guitars and synthesizers, almost as if Grote is daring the listener to not sing along with him.  It’s hard to ignore a song whose purpose is to have an entire stadium sing it in unison.

“Capable” is a subdued beauty, with simple riffs and bass drum, allowing for Grote’s confident voice to stand tall and in front.  “Rattling Of The Heart” pulls out the bands love of U2 and “Will You Please Be Quiet Please?” wraps the listen crashing to close, with drummer Braden Lawrence and Jacobus pummeling us with rhythmic baselines while Grote and new guitarist Pat Cassidy shower us with distortion. 

There is a cohesiveness to PM which was missing from Flourish, despite the split production duties.  What is interesting is the difference from their self-funded debut, which was beautifully rough, and PM, which has a solidity based in the bands progression as musicians and songwriters. The strength of Grote’s voice is showcased on this album, as it should be.  The kid can sing, and his voice shouldn’t be buried behind a wall of distortion and baselines. 

The Districts’ three albums have three different sounds, which I like.  It shows a band finding their way. I have a sense Popular Manipulations is the sound The Districts will settle on, and it’s really a good listen because it’s just different enough from it’s influences to matter.  The trick is to maintain that.  I will continue to enjoy this long player, but am really looking forward to see what they have in store for album number four.   

Overall Rating (3)

5 out of 5 stars