With indie rock’s domination of clubs, arenas and festivals for the majority of this decade, it’s easy to see how some people grow tired of the same old formula indie rock has hummed along to. Every once and awhile a band comes along or creates a song that reinvigorates your love for the genre you may have grown up listening to or clung to in tough times. With the amount of indie rock bands out there now, its difficult to decipher and flat out boring sometimes. Lately though, indie rock has seen somewhat of a renaissance in its sound and image. Falling out of popularity are the radio friendly looks, hooks and riffs. Artists are getting back to being themselves, not giving a shit anymore, singing about what they want to sing about and playing their hearts out in front of even the smallest crowds. Not saying that the glamour and popularity aren’t still the main motivation for some bands, but what people want now is originality.
The Districts fit finely into this indie rock renaissance. I walked into their 12:30am show three nights into SXSW, tired and feeling let down by some of the bands I had seen before them. As if I were standing right there in the studio recording, they played as powerfully and enthusiastically as I had imagined they would. I was smitten by the end of the night; an indie rock band who didn’t care how they looked or who they were playing for, they clearly just wanted to play some damn music.
On your own I’d let you fall down
In a garden full of bees
On your own, picking through lilacs
Covered in gold and kicking through the bellyache
Their first single from Popular Manipulations came out soon after that show. Titled “Ordinary Day,” the song is so sad and full of resent that it’s actually beautiful. The buildup of this song is a signature style of The Districts. The emotion of their songs is palpable and what better way to let it out then to build and build only to lash out at the listener in key parts of their songs. “Violet,” a song that I am still impressed by every day since hearing it for the first time, takes that style to new heights. They’ve refined their sound immensely from their previous works. They never lose the grunge, but when it counts, they hone it in and never stray.
The album is as reflective as it is angsty. It’s highly emotive narrative throughout the album, speaking of regret, exhaustion, frustration, hope, fear and mourning, all in the context of what seems like deeply personal relationships or experiences. He exclaims pointedly in the song “Salt”
Looking at you, white candle
I thought you were hopeful
The last of a glow
Until you burn out
The lyrics are impeccably crooned by lead singer Rob Grote, who’s voice is a juggernaut blasting through some pretty heavy riffs on some songs while tiptoeing around fluttery acoustic guitars on songs like “Why Would I Wanna Be” and “Fat Kiddo.”Along with “Violet” and “Salt” the songs that stand out for me are “Airplane” and “Rattling of the Heart.” These songs, the albums strongest songs, are ones that lean on Grote’s expressive singing and those heavy guitar riffs.
The Districts have come a long way with Popular Manipulations. It’s a fine tuned machine of heavy, emotional, exciting indie rock that busts through the formula that some consider too stale to save. If you have a chance to see them perform this live, do it or you will most definitely regret it.