When you really think about the group’s music, there’s a lot about Interpol not to like. Be it the consistent post-punk cribbing or the monotonous delivery of its albums, all of which are cut from the same cloth, it’s easy to dismiss its members as hipsters of the highest order. (I have one friend who cringes at the first note that singer Paul Banks utters.) Interpol can be labeled as “the” quintessential New York indie band, the one that exploded on the scene with its debut, Turn on the Bright Lights, in 2002 to immediate acclaim and a built-in audience. But times change and sustainability is not a capital that most “it” bands are able to trade in fruitfully. Despite all of the odds against it, Interpol managed an almost-hat-trick with its first three albums; Turn on the Bright Lights,, Antics, and Our Love to Admire, respectively. The ensemble’s fourth LP, the self-titled Interpol was deemed a mediocre affair, at least critically, that culminated with founding bassist Carlos Dengler leaving the band and casting its immediate future in a wavering light.
Interpol’s fifth LP, El Pintor (Spanish for “The Painter” and an anagram of the band’s name), is already poised to be a return of sorts. Even if Interpol fans haven’t asked for a comeback record specifically, it’s the next act in the saga of Interpol. Now carrying on as a three-piece, it’s foolish to think that Interpol didn’t have something to prove after the lackluster performance of its last LP. El Pintor does have much more of the same swagger that led so many to pick up new copies of Turn on the Bright Lights and Antics in physical record stores.
But beyond the riveting singles like “PDA”, “C’mere”, and “The Heinrech Maneuver”, Interpol usually layered some of its more nuanced tracks; the ones that didn’t just rely on rousing choruses and big guitar chords stuck in a cave of reverb. Deeper in their discography there are more than a few tracks that make use of classical tropes and instrumental breakdowns and scenes where each band member highlights their own proficiency. Interpol lost something major when Carlos D. left, but the four LPs he left them with show a band that can stand on its own two legs with inventive and unusual musicianship. Here are some of the Interpol tracks you may have missed or skipped over in favor of those oh-so-relevant singles. Enjoy.
(Turn on the Bright Lights, 2002)
It’s a tough job to tease out a few tracks that may have been overlooked on Interpol’s debut LP. As a whole LP, it’s a solid, engaging piece of work with nary a weak spot to be found. “Say Hello to the Angels” probably doesn’t fit as well as some other tracks on this list, but there’s nuance and detail found in the cracks that are easy to overlook if you’re not listening through headphones. The song starts of like a pot beginning to boil, morphing into a full-on train on fire. Sam Fogarino lets the snare rattle and Carlos D. bounces around the guitar riffs, in an unsettled, yet matching way. Just as the song builds steam, Interpol pulls it back, moving into half-tempo and making space for Paul Banks direct anti-lyrical intervention: “This isn’t no intervention / This isn’t you yet / What you thought was such a conquest / Your hair is so pretty and red.” Through Banks’ mumbling I always heard him sing, “This isn’t Munich / What you thought was such a conquest”, which always added extra menace to the song, especially in light of the title. It’s a shame those aren’t the actually lyrics. But as the song winds it’s strange structure down, an imminent breakdown with Fogarino and Carlos D. shows up and a dark coda climbs through the window, unsettling and rousing, all at the same time.
(Turn on the Bright Lights, 2002)
The penultimate track off Turn on the Bright Lights is easy to miss with its off-key noise shrills and barely-there guitar picking. “The New” is a quietly striking love song as only Interpol can deliver; one where we’re never sure who used who the most and who was left with the hospital bill. Additionally, Banks seems like he’s trying his damndest to actually sound sincere on the track. But, this being Interpol, it isn’t long before everything we thought we knew turns out wrong. At the 3:15 mark, roughly half-way through, “The New” turns into a bundle of nerves with an extended pull on the guitar strings; one and two notes being bent to hell. And still there’s one more ending in a song that could have been half as long when the bass and guitar play a quiet duet before building up to halfway heights.
“The New”, like most other songs on Bright Lights, is composed of about five different parts that somehow make one whole. Interpol never really leaves the key that it starts in, but the group somehow manages to leave it broken and bloody on the floor.
Everything about “Length of Love” comes down to the breakdown at the 2:40 mark. The single note guitar “solo”, if we can call it that, sustains across multiple measures; Carlos D.’s rolling bass riffs push against the sound frame; and Sam Fogarino’s double-time hi-hat snaps all culminate to ease the song into the atmosphere. Banks only gets one word in while his band races toward the finish: “isolation”. Unlike other Interpol tracks, however, Banks’ vocals sound isolated from the rest of the mix. His voice is being run through a filter of sorts and the only thing keeping the track grounded, until the 2:40 mark, is the menacing, minor guitar riff. Likewise, if you’re not paying attention, it’s easy to overlook the hum of the keyboards that hover just above the surface of the track. They show up more prominently around the 1:39 mark, adding an extra element of spaciness to a surprisingly grounded rock song. On the surface is wherethe members of Interpol like to sustain their songs, but the depths is where they really play.
“Not Even Jail” seems like the most familiar of all the tracks on Antics, even if it’s not to casual listeners. Stuck squarely in the middle of the LP, it starts off with an immediate hook, as opposed to a few of the band’s other tracks that take their time developing into something new and, ultimately, warped. The drums pound out from the beginning and some sort of siren goes off to signal the intro. (Siren noises show up as a recurring theme on the band’s other releases, as well.) The song is one of the few where Banks’ lyrics and vocal melody really stand out. You can hear the confidence in his voice, even in the lower registers as he pleads, “Commit no acts of violence / Neither physical or otherwise.” As with most Interpol songs, the song title gives us a theme that Banks builds his lyrical musings around. Whatever, the “jail” is the song—a literal prison, or a metaphor for violence of the mind—its something that deserves more eartime than just a casual listen, especially when Banks proclaims, “I’m subtle like a lion’s cage / Such a cautious display.” Subtlety masked as bravado is what Interpol does best, especially on Antics.
(Our Love to Admire, 2007)
For a guitar band that spends most of its time in the lower registers of the spectrum, “Pace Is the Trick” is light and packed with treble ranges. Ironically, the high-end register—when Interpol decides to jump into it—forms some of the group’s least memorable songs. Banks’ vocals blend strangely with the upper-end frequencies, especially when Daniel Kessler leaves his guitar ringing while he plucks away at two- and three-note melodies. But, like its title, “Pace Is the Trick” has something slow and meticulous about it; something that burns very deep and very soundly. Interpol always seems to use some form of the loud-quiet-loud formula, but to what end is never clear. Sometimes the biggest guitar parts sound smaller than a seed, while one or two notes fill up a hollow building. Once again, the end is where Interpol finds its muse (Fogarino’s drums are unusually cymbal-heavy), and “Pace Is the Trick” ends in a an angelic drone of keys.