(Fat Possum Records)
Within the warbling barrage of instruments that is “If Before I Wake,” the lead track to Popular Manipulations by Pennsylvania’s The Districts, madness ensues. Even before coming to the conclusion of the lyric, “I’m just a narcissist,” there is plenty to uncover about the intentions of the band. The album’s title inspires thoughts about human interaction, leading to being used for and by others, or perhaps being the one to use others. It’s an interesting thought and not that far off from the truth — seeing as people work for others to make an income or lend their services or favors to others on a daily basis.
That theme continues throughout the record, trying to establish an identity while feeling entirely abandoned of a real purpose or emotion. “Violet” finds The Districts questioning the length of relationships, identities and how anything will be remembered, especially if it does not last. It’s a mortal embrace, swirling with melancholic melodies and urgent cries in the vocal delivery.
The questioning of everything is a big reason Popular Manipulations sticks its existential landing. The music is elegant, weaving multiple melodious identities together song after song, pushing parts to their limit in terms of sounding busy. “Salt” is a standout track with exactly this, the drums incorporating their own heart throbbing cadence, placing a foundation for the guitars and bass to extend their utility. The vocals offered on the track finds multiple ways to attack, all accessible and dynamic to the vivid four minute cut. There’s the low and distraught line, “I could keep you company while it heals, but would you try to break my heart?” or the dazzling repeated line, “until we burn out” which throws the song into a pounding tantrum.
“Airplane” plays like a dissonant ballad, warped to a shoegaze style trance, with drums that crash like thunder and walls of distortion keeping the song’s trudging pace going. Again, the vocals have to cut through the thick atmosphere, and they do with a sense of desperation, tearing away at the fear of nothing. “Fat Kiddo” is one track that sticks out against its brethren, utilizing an acoustic guitar line to produce the somber mood, letting most of the ear rattling distortion take a back seat. It’s a touching track that showcases The Districts ability to bounce between a plethora of styles, able to process different dynamic ideas and keep arrangement interesting without losing a song’s charm. The song also sends the album into the more straight forward back half of the record, less electronic and suffocating and more gracious and tap dance flavored. It’s a story that outlines the whole of Popular Manipulations, starting at a horrible thought but coming to the realization that we are capable of love, even when completely alone, even through the use of human interaction.