Reviewing a record that has been out for a year has its complications. Django Django, the eponymous debut album, was released in the United Kingdom in January 2012. There was an immediate buzz about the experimental synth band. The disc reached number 33 on the UK album charts during its first week of release. British papers like The Guardian and The New Musical Express raved about it, and the disc was nominated for the prestigious Mercury Music Prize. The record also did well upon its release in America since its August release. Rolling Stone recently placed it as the 26th best album of 2012. A writer for PopMatters itself recently called the record “an indisputably major achievement”. This is high praise indeed.
Therefore, a reviewer can feel bound to like the disc. After all, the consensus is that it this is a great record so hence, it must be a great record. Alternatively, the reviewer can be a contrarian. If everybody else likes it, then the disc should be slammed to make a statement of some kind. In addition, of course, there is the safe middle path. There are some things to like and others to depreciate on the record and blah blah blah.
No record is heard in a vacuum. The attitude one brings to listening helps determine one’s listening experience. That said, Django Django is an infectious, pretentious, mess of a disc that’s high moments far outweigh the mundane ones. The Scottish quartet offers a sonic silliness that reveals a lack of substance. Everything here is on the surface.
But what else would one expect from a band who, when asked by PopMatters if they had to distill the inspiration for Django Django’s music to a single artist, said it would be Joe Meek? As with Meek’s music, Django Django has an overt love for kitschy outer space sounds and layered sound effects. Everything from crickets chirping to video game soundtracks to African percussion finds its way into the mix.
This is fun, to a point. The experimental nature of the project does lead to some dud passages as well. Imagine what it would sound like to have armored dinosaurs fighting each other on a planet in another galaxy? No, this is not Emerson, Lake, & Palmer’s Tarkus, but at times it sounds close. Other moments suggest Spiritualized, Super Furry Animals, and more mystical fare.
The same imagination leads to sweet and powerful passages made up of odd elements that combine in an aural Joseph Cornell box. Each object means nothing and suggests deep associations. For example, the quiet trip “Hand of Man” takes on a magical journey going nowhere. “Sit down and talk to me / Think of colors shapes and harmony / Picture where the space becomes the sea / Open up your eyes and start to dream” goes the lyrics after a minute of quiet rhythmic music.
Other tracks would work better on the dance floor, such as the exotic “Skies Over Cairo”, a song with Middle Eastern accents refreshingly void of political context. The cut “Hail Bop” has been remixed by a host of other artists (one can buy them on a separate EP) and features a steady clap-beat and other pulsating sounds that suggest movement while listening is essential. The tribute to the comet sounds more like the control room of NASA than the awe of seeing the astronomical object in the heavens, but hey, whatever makes you not be able to sit still is usually a good thing.
Django Django has been hyped as the next big thing. The very nature of hype suggests that the product cannot meet expectations. The record does offer an introduction to a new band willing to play around and try different musical tricks. Their creativity merits praise, and the end result has much to offer. By the way, the group has repeatedly said that its name has nothing to do with the music or person of Django Reinhardt. If that’s what you are expecting, you will find something very different here.