Interpol return with confidence on El Pintor, a record that may satisfy even Turn on the Bright Lights devotees.
It may be strange to describe a band that at one point seemed like the second coming of Joy Division as "energetic", especially when that band's last record (2010's self-titled effort) was more languid and dour than anything they had previously recorded, but that's exactly how Interpol sound on their fifth album, El Pintor. Regardless of how one might feel about the general trajectory of Interpol's career, this is the sound of a band revitalized and rejuvenated, and while it may not quite reach the incredible heights to which they so adeptly ascended in years past, El Pintor is still a fantastic record from a fantastic band.
The record starts with restraint. The first bars of "All the Rage Back Home", the album opener, are all organ, piercing guitar, and Paul Banks' soft crooning voice, until the band explodes into a driving, pulsing rock groove that only Interpol can provide. The effect is not unlike that of "Untitled", the first track on the band's now classic 2002 debut record, Turn on the Bright Lights. Back then it alluded to something special in the band, as though they were confidently announcing themselves to the world with the pounding introduction of Sam Fogarino's drums. The same moment on "All the Rage Back Home" acts as a sort new beginning, an announcement to the critics of their recent work that they still have that something special. It's this confidence that defines the album. That eruption into a sparkling wall of sound barely slows down and never stops until the very end.
It helps that El Pintor sounds fantastic. It's cleaner and more robust sounding than even Turn on the Bright Lights, and it's precisely how a modern rock album should sound: elegant, organic, and fierce. Waves of reverb weave together Banks and Daniel Kessler's bright, interlocking guitar patterns, leaving the low end for Banks' gruff voice and the bottomless sound of the rhythm section. Interpol are a band known for their lively drum-and-bass assault, and though they've incurred some lineup changes in recent years, they still build their songs off of chunky bass riffs and thunderous drum grooves, particularly blistering tracks like the standout "Anywhere". Every song propels forward, eager to avoid any of the slow points or sluggish tempos that in many ways dulled the self-titled album. Even the slower tracks like "Same Town, New Story" evolve as they progress, ensuring that by the time they end they've made some sort of forward impact.
Indeed, the band seems keen to leave behind the somewhat morose tone of their self-titled record. On "Ancient Ways", Banks curses the past and the resistance of development and progression, proclaiming, "fuck the ancient ways". This is a band confident in their direction forward. There is no traditional song structure here, no catchy, sing-along hooks or powerful instrumental breaks. Without a strict, identifiable skeleton, songs drive on without many landmarks -- few big choruses, few logical transitions, and very few of those satisfying moments that define Interpol's greatest songs. Songs like "Anywhere","My Blue Supreme" and "Twice As Hard" come close to traditional pop song structure (as close as a band like Interpol could come to pop without it sounding forced), but their rhythms are off-set and hard to follow, shaking off any hopes of grasping the melodies on first or second listen.
On the one hand, it makes the album both full of surprises and remarkably consistent, but on the other hand it sacrifices the dynamics that were so crucial to their music in the past. El Pintor is a relatively straightforward listen because of that, and it inches the album toward the one-dimensionality that some found monotonous on Interpol. Luckily the band sound so in their element -- both in performance and song craft -- that it ultimately just allows them to come out sounding more original than ever.
But for all that they still sound like Interpol, and El Pintor may not convince those who feel they have lost their way since their debut. As differently paced as it is from the self-titled record, the album still feels like a new chapter rather than a whole new story. Interpol might sometimes seem like a band trying to match their greatest moments from a decade ago, but despite that they continue to make good music. If you're still waiting for another Turn on the Bright Lights, you'll most likely be waiting for some time, but you might as well take El Pintor for a spin to pass the time, because, after all, it might just satisfy that desire.