Interpol: El Pintor

Interpol return with confidence on El Pintor, a record that may satisfy even Turn on the Bright Lights devotees.


El Pintor

Label: Matador
US Release Date: 2014-09-09
UK Release Date: 2014-09-08

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.


Cover down, pray through: Bob Dylan's underrated, misunderstood "gospel years" are meticulously examined in this welcome new installment of his Bootleg series.

"How long can I listen to the lies of prejudice?
How long can I stay drunk on fear out in the wilderness?"
-- Bob Dylan, "When He Returns," 1979

Bob Dylan's career has been full of unpredictable left turns that have left fans confused, enthralled, enraged – sometimes all at once. At the 1965 Newport Folk Festival – accompanied by a pickup band featuring Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper – he performed his first electric set, upsetting his folk base. His 1970 album Self Portrait is full of jazzy crooning and head-scratching covers. In 1978, his self-directed, four-hour film Renaldo and Clara was released, combining concert footage with surreal, often tedious dramatic scenes. Dylan seemed to thrive on testing the patience of his fans.

Keep reading... Show less

Inane Political Discourse, or, Alan Partridge's Parody Politics

Publicity photo of Steve Coogan courtesy of Sky Consumer Comms

That the political class now finds itself relegated to accidental Alan Partridge territory along the with rest of the twits and twats that comprise English popular culture is meaningful, to say the least.

"I evolve, I don't…revolve."
-- Alan Partridge

Alan Partridge began as a gleeful media parody in the early '90s but thanks to Brexit he has evolved into a political one. In print and online, the hopelessly awkward radio DJ from Norwich, England, is used as an emblem for incompetent leadership and code word for inane political discourse.

Keep reading... Show less

The show is called Crazy Ex-Girlfriend largely because it spends time dismantling the structure that finds it easier to write women off as "crazy" than to offer them help or understanding.

In the latest episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, the CW networks' highly acclaimed musical drama, the shows protagonist, Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom), is at an all time low. Within the course of five episodes she has been left at the altar, cruelly lashed out at her friends, abandoned a promising new relationship, walked out of her job, had her murky mental health history exposed, slept with her ex boyfriend's ill father, and been forced to retreat to her notoriously prickly mother's (Tovah Feldshuh) uncaring guardianship. It's to the show's credit that none of this feels remotely ridiculous or emotionally manipulative.

Keep reading... Show less

To be a migrant worker in America is to relearn the basic skills of living. Imagine doing that in your 60s and 70s, when you thought you'd be retired.

Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century

Publisher: W. W. Norton
Author: Jessica Bruder
Publication date: 2017-09

There's been much hand-wringing over the state of the American economy in recent years. After the 2008 financial crisis upended middle-class families, we now live with regular media reports of recovery and growth -- as well as rising inequality and decreased social mobility. We ponder what kind of future we're creating for our children, while generally failing to consider who has already fallen between the gaps.

Keep reading... Show less

Gallagher's work often suffers unfairly beside famous husband's Raymond Carver. The Man from Kinvara should permanently remedy this.

Many years ago—it had to be 1989—my sister and I attended a poetry reading given by Tess Gallagher at California State University, Northridge's Little Playhouse. We were students, new to California and poetry. My sister had a paperback copy of Raymond Carver's Cathedral, which we'd both read with youthful admiration. We knew vaguely that he'd died, but didn't really understand the full force of his fame or talent until we unwittingly went to see his widow read.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.