In 2010 the odds were long on there being another Interpol album. Carlos Dengler, bassist and major contributor to the band had left. The remaining members had moved on to various side projects. Lead singer Paul Banks released a second solo album; drummer Sam Fogarino was involved in two other musical groups, Empty Mansions and Setting Suns. The band was exhausted from relentless touring for their own self titled fourth album and opening for U2 on the last leg of their 360 tour.
The band has been together since 1997 and it looked like a possible parting of ways was on the cards. Enter August of 2012 Paul Banks and guitarist Daniel Kessler get together with no set plan, Kessler had a couple of song frameworks. Kessler explained,” It was just us playing music to see if there was something there.” Fortunately things took off, drummer Sam Fogarino came in to add his tenacious percussion and the rest as they say is history. Their fifth album El Pintor is the result of those sessions. If losing your bassist results in this kind of outcome, most bands should pink slip their bassist as soon as possible. El Pintor is an amazing album, urgent, compelling and presenting a trio of performers who are reenergized. The disc was self produced, engineered by James Brown, of Foo Fighters fame, and returning Alan Moulder to Interpol’s mixing desk.
In discussing the loss of Dengler, Kessler says,” …I also want to be realistic; Carlos is a formidable musician and a key contributor to Interpol up until now. You could not be so naïve as to be like,”oh these are easy shoes to fill”, they are not easy shoes to fill.” Fogarino added, “Losing Dengler was a blow but it also came with a huge sense of relief. It was not fun to make a record with someone who doesn’t want to be there and it is not fun to dislike someone you care for.” Almost by accident, while working on this album, Banks took on the bass position in a more permanent capacity. He was suffering from writers block when playing guitar in the initial songwriting session, and suggested he bring in a bass the next day, the songwriting process took off from that point. Interpol was back, firing on all cylinders and now a trio.
Interpol has always been a critics favorite; they have scored numerous rave reviews and headlined important festivals. Their 2002 debut”Turn on the Bright Lights” was number 1 on 2002 Pitchfork’s year end albums list. Their next three releases all charted in the top 5 on the Billboard 200. Interpol originated from the NYC indie scene that included The Strokes, and The National, and are considered a post punk melancholy guitar rock band reminiscent of Joy Division. Coming from divergent backgrounds their formation was a lucky accident. Kessler commenting on their formation says, “We were always aware it is a miracle we found each other in the first place, there is an alchemy here, we are more than the sum of our parts, and that’s the magic, as long as you don’t lose sight of that, you can get through all the weird dynamics.” The band members say that the last two albums had a problem of too much clutter and that they are now attempting to deliver concentrated Interpol, stripped back to their early days but informed by their experiences.
The recording begins with “All the Rage Back Home” a trance like opening that slams into overdrive. Bank’s voice sails over a swirling reverb guitar. There is a vortex of sound with Banks vocals in the center anchoring the song. This song is a great start and draws you into the album. “My Desire” with its insistent guitar dado drives the song. Again Bank’s vocals are a feature and interplay with the moody beautiful guitar chords. Of note is the excellent production on this song, subtle and nuanced. The mantra like chorus is apt,” Free my desire, come on baby, play me out, and lay me out, looks like your chance has come. It is time we change the heart.”
One of the first songs written for the release “Anywhere” just ascends. A big cathedral of a song, the vocals are fitting and just kick in the last nail. Banks seems to be just barely tethered to the earth on this song. Great drumming and urgent guitar work in an expansive tune. It is one of my favorites. I love the lyric;” you know all about me, that’s what so frightening.” Catchy song you will not be able to get out of your head.
On “Same Town, New Story” there is this stretchy bass intro, and an impressive use of overdub with a hooky guitar that lays the foundation of the song .The subject matter seems to be about a relationship held together by a woman determined to stand by her flawed man. ‘Feels like the whole world is up on my shoulders, feels like the whole world is coming down on me.”
“My Blue Supreme” is an atmospheric song that works perfectly with Banks’ monotone delivery; a perfect foil to the music. The song posits the idol and the worshipper and the desire to change places. “Love comes how do you takes it only one in a hundred makes it.” “There is someone that I am dying to be, cruising in my blue supreme.” You can not free yourself of this song, it is like an imaginary fish line full of mental hooks lodged into your head. This is my favorite song. The driving bass lead into “Everything is Wrong” demands your attention. Each member of the band is giving a stellar performance. They are gets so much out of each instrument, with lush sounding arrangements that are focused and not a note is wasted. The lyric “we hope in time what is now, is overcome”, planting the seeds of hope that acknowledging everything is wrong will bring about the ability to conquer in the end.
The track “Breaker 1” is a foreboding almost sinister song, feelings of threat existing both physically and in the psychodrama of a relationship. The narrator of the song sends out an almost pleading message into the radio silence. Is the narrator “The beast inside, he leads the way, the feast of the starving.”? The song paints a chilling imagery questioning what is hidden behind the placid façade. The skittering guitar on “Ancient Ways” leads to the opening lyric,”Oh fuck the ancient ways.” There is no ambiguity in that lyric. An ongoing relentless drum and guitar attack compels you to dance around the room. Here is a fantastic marriage of lyric with sound.
The commanding drum intro of” Tidal Wave” makes for another engaging track. The structure of the song places everything where it should be; it builds like a wave then finally climaxes in the chorus. Yet another tremendously addictive song on an album full of hooky as hell choruses and beautiful soundscapes.
Wrapping up the release is “Twice as Hard” an icy slightly gothic turn, with a repetitive overdub. A coda at the end brings a close to a powerful disc, “All these nights of many lights, fall away like they’re beautiful, ours these are all my creations, leading me towards you.”
El Pintor announces the second metamorphosis of Interpol, declaring that they have become a stripped down and more focused band. If this albumc is anything to go by, the second incarnation will be better than the first. El Pintor emphasizes that Interpol is a band with three very smart guys who have mad musical skills and excellent song writing abilities. With this release Interpol has painted an exquisite cohesive soundscape. There is not a weak track in the collection. A simply spellbinding recording filled with concentrated Interpol goodness. The potential of the band has coming to fruition in this album. The songs just enthrall the listener and are hard to shake. There is truly sorcery at work, nothing on the disc is complex when deconstructed, but the sum of the parts is truly breathtaking. One of the best releases thus far for 2014.
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Watch the making of Elpintor BELOW: