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 their 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 their 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 their 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.
But beyond the riveting singles like “PDA”, “C’mere”, and “The Heinrich Maneuver”, Interpol usually layered some of their 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 their 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.
1. “Say Hello to the Angels” (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 off 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 actual lyrics. But as the song winds its 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.
2. “The New” (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 halfway 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.
3. “Length of Love” (Antics, 2004)
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 where the members of Interpol like to sustain their songs, but the depths are where they really play.
4. “Not Even Jail” (Antics, 2004)
“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 ear time 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.
5. “Pace Is the Trick” (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 seem 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 their muse (Fogarino’s drums are unusually cymbal-heavy), and “Pace Is the Trick” ends in a an angelic drone of keys.
6. “Wrecking Ball” (Our Love to Admire, 2007)
“Wrecking Ball” is the very definition of a deep track. The position of “Wrecking Ball” — sequenced deep into the tracklist, almost at the end of the band’s third LP — nearly suggests that Interpol would rather you not hear it. Maybe it was too experimental; maybe someone fought hard for its inclusion. Whatever the reason, “Wrecking Ball” may be the best, unheralded track from Interpol’s career, a much more fitting end than the final track on the LP, “The Lighthouse”.
Coming off the heels of the fast-paced “Who Do You Think?”, “Wrecking Ball” sounds nothing like its title. Listen for the dueling guitar lines and the call-and-response vocal parts that the band stitches together. And it’s all held together through a deceptively simple guitar riff. It’s the type of riff that shows up a bit more on the band’s next album, Interpol; small, lonesome, guitar lines that seem to meander, but actually ground the song. The silence at the 2:44 mark is another effective trick. Who knows where the song will go after the bottom drops? The answer comes from an array of (synthesized?) horns and Banks’ disjointed vocals floating alone in the ether.
7. “Summer Well” (Interpol, 2010)
It’s easy to see why Interpol’s fourth LP didn’t receive the favorability that the band’s previous albums did. Most of the tracks seems to escape easy grasp and evaporate before they’ve gone on to form something lasting. But Interpol is significant and worthwhile, if only for the manner in which it refuses to conform to expectations. Whatever we may have thought we knew about the band is torn apart by this album, and “Summer Well” is one of the first examples of that.
Built around a buoyant bassline and jazzy keyboard line that remains stubbornly atonal, “Summer Well” shows off a few new tricks in the Interpol bag. Banks’ voice is more layered and he tries on some falsetto, Carlos D.’s bass is bigger and more urgent, most of the guitars are replaced with piano and keyboards, and much of what Fogarino literally drummed up on past albums is muted. Still, “Summer Well” packs a gut punch, if only for the kind of madness it evokes. It sounds like a band stretching and expanding its skin, something it sorely needed by this point to break out of its staid routines. Interpol still retains its core, but something new and rewarding is available; we just have to pay closer attention to the minutiae this time around.
8. “Safe Without” (Interpol, 2010)
The back-half of Interpol is some of the darkest music in the band’s canon. Much of what we hear on the final tracks of the band, thus far, plunge deeper into darkness than ever before. Not the type of put-on darkness that Interpol can manufacture with minor chords and vaguely sadomasochistic lyrics, but actual directionless, darkness. “Safe Without”, “Try It On”, and “All of the Ways” are a trilogy of tracks that belong together and, it’s worth noting, that the final track on Interpol is called “The Undoing”. Wherever the group was at this time — financially, critically, successfully — seems to be winding down and unraveling at this stage of the game.
“Safe Without” speaks directly to that, it seems, as Banks suggests, “I’m not the hero out the gate.” Fogarino’s drums are looped and live drums are tracked on top of them, and the eerie riff that plays throughout is hypnotic and monochromatic. The song gives us the sense that, for a brief moment, the band members have dropped whatever facade they were playing at and allowed sincerity to be their guide. “I am safe without it”, Banks chants as a mantra. Whatever the “it” refers to is anyone’s guess, but the song winds down in a lull of keyboards that sound like sirens; an emergency that no one plans to rectify.
9. “Try It On” / 10. “All of the Ways” (Interpol, 2010)
“Try It On” and its segue piece “All of the Ways” sound like a band burning the candle at both ends and weary from the ride. Together these two tracks are the most unusual and magnetic that Interpol has captured. “Try It On” rides a piano riff to death and Fogarino pops the snare so tight, it may burst at any moment. And the supplemental keyboards and electronic blips are all part of the melee. Lyrically, Interpol remains as obtuse as ever, but whatever the group has to say now isn’t important; capturing the sound of what’s left is.
By the time, “All of the Ways” buzzes in, it feels like we’ve been invited into a church where we just listen to confessional cries on an endless cycle. “All of the Ways” isn’t so much a song as it is a series of sounds that mimic an ocean churning. There are more sirens, too, and more guitar, though all of the guitar lines are beamed in from another planet and sustain endlessly. “Who is this guy?” Banks asks. Maybe he’s asking a jilted lover or maybe he’s asking himself. But the way the story ends isn’t going to make us smile, that’s the only clarity we can get from the last tracks before “The Undoing”.
In many ways, Interpol had a cloud cast over it from the start. Whether it’s the uninspired album cover art or the blackness that runs concurrently from track to track, it feels like a betrayal of trust from a band which spent its first three albums making sure there was plenty of guitar hooks and melodies in its armory. Interpol, however, is the most fascinating artifact of the band’s career. It’s one of those albums that will eventually find its place among hardcore fans, and going back and revisiting it now shows layers that weren’t apparent on its first release and initial listens. For most fans, there will be much to love about El Pintor, but some of the finest songs are the ones that don’t cry out to be recognized; they wait silently in the corner to be acknowledged by you. By anyone.
This article was originally published on 10 September 2014.