The Districts’ third release Popular Manipulations is both textured and polished.
In 2017, classic indie rock continues to live on through Pennsylvania natives The Districts’ latest album, Popular Manipulations. It’s a delightful, albeit common spin on introspective lyrical soul-searching laced with over-the-top moments of musical staccato. The raw music itself is assembled like a shiny mosaic art piece, but bouts of unmemorable lyrics tend to saturate some of the tracks. However, the strong musical influences derived from early Modest Mouse, Bon Iver and the Killers, on top of pure skill are what really makes this album worth a listen. Nothing is better than an album that can serve as quaint background noise while driving, at work, or studying for a test.
The band bounces back and forth from instances of indie, grunge, and folk rock with lyrical topics ranging from love, to heartbreak, and to depression brought on by loneliness. The band’s website states that the Velvet Underground serves as one of their sole influences, drawing from their “impeccable drone-rock sound.” Since this is an album with thundering drums, bass, and ambitious guitar riffs, vocalist and guitarist Robert Grote sometimes gets drowned out by the rest of the band. Songs like shaky third track “Ordinary Day” sound pretty ordinary when Grote croons over and over about “covering miles in a broken car” during a blazing chorus with no end to the song in sight. “Airplane” is another track that starts off as if it’s a nervous child not quite sure of themselves, but then turns into crashing waves and a rising tide that envelops the listener. Parts that seem like they might not work actually do, thanks to Grote. “Why Would I Wanna Be” has this insane reverberation throughout the whole song that kind of makes someone feel like they are having an anxiety attack. “Capable” starts off monotone and heavy, but takes a turn when Grote ups his tone a little bit. It’s unfortunate that Grote’s voice doesn’t stand out on every track because his vocal range is pretty darn pristine, but this is nothing new in the world of indie.
The most notable tracks would be “If Before I Wake,” “Violet,” “Fat Kiddo,” and “Will You Please Be Quiet Please.” Each song showcases the band in a different light, showing off what they’re all good at without taking any attention away from both the instrumentals and the lyrics. The opening song, “If Before I Wake” has the most impressive mold of the current sound that the band wants. To top it off, the song leaves the listener in anticipation because it’s starts off quiet and becomes the latter. Another thing to note is that every chorus and every moment where there’s layered vocals sounds solid and stylish, especially in the first track. The transition to “Violet,” a song with a much faster tempo, is almost effortless. “Violet” stands out because of the mesmerizing drum pattern in the background. It seriously can make a listener want to bob their head along to the whole song. Grote’s vocals are also very loud and open in this particular track.
“Fat Kiddo” is a totally stripped song that gives attention to Grote for the first minute, and then gives attention to the rest of the band — Connor Jacobus on bass, Braden Lawrence on drums, and Pat Cassidy heading the other guitar. It’s not a fast-tempo song and it’s not complex, but it’s fully cohesive as a whole. Also, Grote’s vocals around 1:45 sound like chocolate melting in your mouth. “Will You Be Quiet Please?” is reminiscent of the blended sound particularly aimed for in the first track, so it’s automatically going to be a worthwhile song to jam to. Another track that is slowed down but best represents the artistry of the band, “Will You Be Quiet Please?” is a stunning way to wrap up the record.