Emotional ruminations of isolation and alienation abound in this anthemic third album from a group of early twenty-somethings with old souls.
On their 2015 album A Flourish and a Spoil, former high school rock band The Districts explored well-trodden paths of small town disillusionment; that strange feeling, known by so many teenagers, of somehow not belonging to the place you’ve spent your whole life in up to that point. Yet despite beginning to achieve the kind of success young musicians dream of, being signed by indie label Fat Possum merely a week before the band members were due to start college and leaving home to tour the country, the young four-piece muse on familiar feelings of alienation and monotony on their third LP Popular Manipulations.
Lead single “Ordinary Day” characterises the uneasy sensation of going through the motions in life: front man Rob Grote singing of sunsets that lead into days that invariably bring about more sunsets, all of them “ordinary”, while a chromatic bassline thuds on over drummer Braden Lawrence’s unruffled beat. The idea - perpetuated by social media - that everyone around you is having a better time than you are is perhaps one of the ‘popular manipulations’ that the album title alludes to, as is the altogether more disturbing theme of control and ownership in relationships explored on “Violet” (“I love how sweetly you smother me / Violet, you’re mine”).
The record was partly self-produced, but John Congleton (Angel Olsen, St. Vincent) who produced The Districts’ previous record in their entirety worked with the band on four songs. Fans of garage rock will be familiar with the fuzzed-out results, at its best highlighting the band’s trademark guitar distortion, although at times muffling Grote’s vocals slightly. But their sound has evolved considerably; epic foot stomper and album opener “If Before I Wake” has the assurance of a band twice their age, while the opening bars of “Salt” are reminiscent of early Nirvana. With this offering, surely big things await this small-town foursome.