Sunday, July 25, 2010

Review: "Lights" and "Barricade" by Interpol

Interpol has had a rough summer. First, most of their opening dates for U2 were cancelled because of Bono’s back surgery. Then Carlos D, their bassist and most iconic bandmate, left to pursue “new goals.” Without him, the band was rendered largely faceless to many fans. Even with his move from militant chic to more relaxed, normal dress, he remained an aesthetic center of the band, the one who defined what Interpol is all about. Fortunately for us, he recorded the upcoming album with the band, even if he’s not touring with them.

For those of you who aren’t familiar, Interpol was at the helm of the post-punk revival that took over the independent music scene a year or two after the garage rock style of the Strokes canonized indie rock with their album Is This It in 2001. Interpol’s album Turn On the Bright Lights, released in 2002, drew infinite comparisons to Joy Division, often seen as the one band that defined post-punk: sharp, angular basslines; monotonous vocals; sparse, often amelodic guitars; and tight, straightforward drumming. All this was hip in the late 70s and early 80s, but had largely faded out of the mainstream by the late 80s. Interpol brought this style back, and with that first album helped ensconce the post-punk sound as a core for much of the decade’s indie rock bands.

It’s been a long 8 years since then, but Interpol has managed to stay afloat, unlike so many of their early-2000s peers. Their lead single "Barricade" from their upcoming self-titled album was leaked onto the internet within the past week, and it’s a welcome sonic shift for Interpol. Their previous album, Our Love to Admire, was an unfortunate drift into unfamiliar territory for the band. From the look of this single, they’ve returned to their strengths.

The throbbing bass is what keeps "Barricade" from falling into the trap of their previous album, Our Love to Admire, which was largely composed of aimlessly plodding tracks of indeterminate structure. Carlos D keeps things on point here, and his perfect interplay with Sam Fogarino’s drums keeps Daniel Kessler (guitar) and Paul Banks (vocals/guitar) from getting carried away with their more ambient leanings. They keep the reverb to a minimum, and maintain their simple chordal strumming underneath everything. It all constitutes a move back to the concise format of their earlier songs. They could still afford to cut from the second half and make the chorus more distinctive, but "Barricade" is a lot better than anything they’ve done in the past three years.

What’s even better is that they’ve managed to distill the strongest elements from Our Love to Admire into a listenable, engaging form for this album. Their other single, "Lights", is a more controlled, focused take on the atmospheric facet of their style that took over Our Love to its detriment. This song actually goes somewhere. Paul Banks appears to have brought in some of the styling from his solo album and synthesized strong motifs and riffs into these more spacious songs. Would I still listen to "Lights" at almost any point, like I would with anything on Turn On the Bright Lights? Probably not. You have to be in the mood for it. It isn’t something infectious enough to rival their older material. It definitely does not need to be as long as it is (5:38), and it only gets really moving after four minutes. The whole gaining-momentum-to-a-sonic-climax thing isn’t one that they do too well, but they’re getting (marginally) better at it.

Interpol made the future difficult for themselves when they released their first album. Aside from being an amazing, game-changing piece of work, it restricted their aural palette to the barest of bones. The whole album was so strict in its instrumental and structural parameters that it left Interpol little room to evolve while staying faithful to their sound. Their second album was a slight misstep, their third a much larger one, but it seems as if their fourth album will mark a return to a more comprehensible, coherent evolution from Turn On the Bright Lights. We’ll have to wait until September 7 to hear in full, but based on these two tracks, I’m optimistic.

Juan Carlos’ rating:

Barricade: B+

Lights: B (but an A for effort and improvement)

-Juan Carlos




  1. It seems to me that Interpol create better songs when they stick with a consistent structure and tempo. In a way, their sound is more avant-garde than indie. On the other hand, when they indulge in free-flow forms, their musical ideas tend to run wild. I'm not as much of a 'Bright Lights' advocate as you, but I agree that "Barricades" is the direction the new album should move in, while "Lights" is, well...not. Also, what's up with that cryptic music video?

  2. I love the song Lights ... definitely a masterpiece, in my eyes