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Fresh Beats: Interpol’s new album, “El Pintor”

Fresh Beats: Interpol’s new album, “El Pintor”

Fresh Beats: Interpol’s new album, “El Pintor”
September 02
00:27 2014

Matt Wood / Senior Staff Writer

Just at the turn of the millennium, three New York City bands emerged and endured as part of the forefathers of indie music – The Strokes, The National and Interpol.

The Strokes supernova-ed following colossal acclaim and proceeded to burn out quickly. The National aged with grace, although notoriously “fun-drunk” lead singer Matt Berninger tried to prove otherwise. And, fittingly, Interpol just got kind of weird.

This was a band whose lead singer Paul Banks belted out the line “Her stories are boring and stuff” hundreds of times, and also spun records on the side as “DJ Fancypants.” He even put together a hip-hop mix tape, the title of which we can’t exactly print.

But at its root, Interpol always managed to tap into a brand of melancholy that resonated with a generation similar to how Joy Division’s “Unknown Pleasures” did in the ‘80s. The brooding, dark and almost reluctant sound that came out of Interpol found a way to create enjoyment by finding camaraderie in misanthropy.

Seventeen years after the band’s formation, its fifth studio album “El Pintor” tries to return to this binding bitterness after a four-year hiatus and nearly breaking up.

Albums following a hiatus tread a careful line. Bands either enter into a “comeback” album with an entirely new sound, sick of their old one, or they desperately try to recreate the music of their glory days. Interpol, somehow, does a bit of both.

A blend of the new and the old, the tracks of “El Pintor” are a departure from the jumbled mess that was the last self-titled album that was released almost exactly four years ago.

In those four years, the band effectively split and lead singer Paul Banks released two solo albums, both of which showcased his strong songwriting abilities. However, the tracks felt incomplete, sorely lacking the two other members of Interpol.

The band’s fifth album is  less a return to form and more of a solved identity crisis. Interpol stuck to its defining qualities – somber vocals, echoing guitars and prominent baselines.

The opening track “All the Rage Back Home,” provides promise, although it grows a bit stale as the track refuses to develop over its four-and-a-half minute run time. But regardless, all the elements are there, including a frantic, rapid lead guitar part to counter the level-headed drumbeat.

This dichotomy is what Interpol used to navigate masterfully. When guitar parts were simple, drum parts would become complex and vice versa. When one part of the song became overwhelming and all-consuming, another part would stick to basics and let other sections take charge.

“My Blue Supreme” sounds less like an Interpol song title and more like a Taco Bell experiment gone horribly wrong. The track borrows a bit too heavily from Interpol’s past, with the first few bursts of guitar sounding exactly like tracks from 2004’s “Antics.” It feels a bit weak for the band to recycle chords so haphazardly, but the rest of the track diverges enough to make it stand alone.

The album really shines  when it chooses to emphasize the weighty bass lines, harkening to its first two albums. By having the tracks focus on lower notes, it complements Banks’ baritone perfectly and allows the high-pitched guitars to float airily overhead. “Everything is Wrong” embodies this perfectly, opening with a biting baseline and a straightforward drumbeat. It’s the most balanced song on the album: it’s varied, it keeps the old while introducing some new elements and it ends up being a quintessential Interpol track.

However, the album wanders quickly from its familiar path in the last four tracks. In the tail end, the band flips to trying the “new innovative sound” side, and it takes a nosedive. Shedding the expected characteristics of your band can prove fruitful, but only if the new direction is deliberate and defined.

It raises the question of whether or not Interpol can ever fully shake its foundations, as its efforts to do so end up being missteps. But when Interpol delivers its tried-and-true format, it’s hard not to buy into it.

Rating: 3.5/5

Featured Image: Interpol plays a 12-song set at a festival in Portugal in 2007. Photo courtesy of  Wikimedia Commons

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