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Interpol makes party record that is hard to party to

Marcel Thee

The Jakarta Post

Jakarta  /  Wed, June 26, 2019  /  05:09 pm
Interpol makes party record that is hard to party to

Intriguing: Rock band Interpol members (from left) lead guitar player and backing vocals Daniel Kessler, lead singer and bass guitar player, Paul Banks and drummer Sam Fogarino release 'A Fine Mess' – a compressed, overdriven-crunch quality album throughout. (Courtesy of Interpol/Kalpesh-Lathigra)

There must be something the members of Interpol hear in producer Dave Fridmann's work in their music that the rest of us don't.

Continuing the collaboration that began with last year's frustratingly abrasive Marauder, the New York City indie rock icons return with A Fine Mess, a quickly recorded EP that vocalist-guitarist (and album bassist) Paul Banks has described as being “upbeat rockers” meant to “take the party by the horns” but feels like yet another collection of promising tracks fighting against itself for little reason but a change of atmosphere.

There is indeed something exciting about the concept of a spontaneously produced recording that finds musicians blasting through songs without overthinking the process.

But fair judgement or not, Interpol's prowess has always come from something that feels more refined, both sonically and aesthetically.

So, as in Marauder, Fridmann's production choice feels self-defeating; an experiment that might be intriguing in short bursts than a continuous shift. Had this EP been released first, it would have certainly felt like an interesting surprise, but as a follow-up to Marauder, it is an exhausting extension.

Like Marauder, A Fine Mess has a compressed, overdriven-crunch quality throughout.

A layer of distorted-like maximalism pierces through every song, flattening each section into evoking the same kind of energy and practically ripping any opportunity for dynamics these songs may have had. For a band who made its name through dynamic moodiness, this is a major change in impact.

Opener “Fine Mess” absolutely drowns Banks' vocals in distortion while wrapping his and guitarist Daniel Kessler's guitar interplay into a hard to distinguish mush of sound – so much so that when the addition of a spacey/psychedelic keyboard appears close to its climax, it barely registers if not focused on.

Drummer Sam Fogarino's masterful drumming has always managed to launch the Kessler-Banks twilight guitar-duel (and early on, former bassist Carlos D's fluid basslines) into an unrivaled post-punk symphony through percussive finesse; but here, the production again makes it sound like incessant pummeling of an almost straightforward drummer. 

Interpol loyalists who've managed to breakthrough Marauder's wall of crunch may have trained their listening to focus on the song underneath the production. And indeed, some of the songs on this EP do show a kind of growing, nocturnally anthemic melodic sensibility that Marauder's hidden treasures such as “NYSMAW”, “Number 10” and “Flight of Fancy” offered.

A Fine Mess' best tracks rival those songs in its upward celebration of melancholy. “Real Life” has the kind of refrain that evokes Interpol's earlier years in its effective bittersweetness, with Banks uttering lines that are fittingly moody and image-filled to complete its punch – “All these secondary lives I fall into/ Unbalanced beam, a step unseen, a state/ All these secondary lives are falling into/ Scattered dreams, scattered people”.

Intriguing: Rock band Interpol members (from left) lead guitar player and backing vocals Daniel Kessler, lead singer and bass guitar player, Paul Banks and drummer Sam Fogarino release 'A Fine Mess' – a compressed, overdriven-crunch quality album throughout. Intriguing: Rock band Interpol members (from left) lead guitar player and backing vocals Daniel Kessler, lead singer and bass guitar player, Paul Banks and drummer Sam Fogarino release 'A Fine Mess' – a compressed, overdriven-crunch quality album throughout. (Courtesy of Interpol/Kalpesh-Lathigra)

While “The Weekend” doesn't reach the same (hidden) heights, its Interpol-by-the-breeze serves up an uplifting chorus that would have been easy to hum along to had it not been surrounded by instruments that indistinguishably buzz at unrelenting levels.

Though Interpol has never reclaimed the artistic heights of their first two records (nor the same kind of critical success), they've continued to release records that are at least respectable in their quality control and enjoyable in their “on-brand” loyalty; meaning the chiming guitar back-and-forth, the more complex than it sounds beats and deeper and funnier than expected lyricism.

Marauder and A Fine Mess are the first to break away from these, and while it's easy to proclaim it a failed experiment of sorts, it's also important to note that it takes a lot of artistic courage and sense-of-truth to make this kind of shift from your brand.

There is simply no way the members of Interpol weren't aware of the risk they were taking. As such, this era of the band's might is best seen as a respectable experiment that resulted in Interpol's most challenging to listen to music.

It's a necessary, if unpleasant move forward. As a creative force, there's still signs of life within Interpol and as far as veteran bands/brands go, that's at the very least still something to celebrate. (ste)

 

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