26 Jan 2018
With its mix of 1960s influenced psychedelic guitars, skewed, jerky rhythms and avant-garde electronic flourishes, Django Django's debut album, accompanied by the huge single, "Default", resonated with a whole lot of people. Like many of the other more arty indie bands that found fame in the early part of the decade such as Alt-J, Wild Beasts, and Everything Everything, the band came across as instantly relatable, plucky outsiders. Kooks rather than emergent indie heroes, seemingly as shocked as anyone that their music had struck a chord with so many people.
It's little wonder then that the music defied any easy categorization. Their sound was as refreshing as it was satisfying - divorced from any current trends. However, it isn't easy to repeat the alchemy of a debut album and expectation can do funny things to a band. Although 2015's Born Under Saturn was, at times, an excellent, follow-up, there was an overriding feeling that the band felt they were under pressure to keep innovating rather than always crashing the same car. While it is understandable that the band would fight hard against repeating themselves, the reality was that too many of the songs, came across as experiments in sound at the expense of the catchy, hummable hooks that flowed over the brim of their debut.
Thankfully, there is has been no obvious second-guessing. No sense of doubt. No pondering the question 'Where are we now?'. They have redressed the balance and returned with some of the snappiest and enjoyable songs of their career to date. Not only have the band remembered what made them such an intriguing and enjoyable band in the first place, they have also managed to do so by avoiding sounding predictable whilst pulling off some genuine surprises.
The album takes no time in outlining what the band is all about as they fire up the boosters on opener "Marble Skies". A perfect summation of what can be loosely described as the band's signature sound. Featuring a naggingly catchy harpsichord riff backed by '80s indie guitars it quickly launches into a typically giddy chorus that shows off Neff's flat-lined, lilting singing style and keen ear for a hook. It's a song meant for maximum gratification in the shortest time possible, playing to the bands strengths from the off.
Second song "Surface to Air" provides the first real surprise as singer/guitarist Vincent Neff hands over vocal duties to Slow Club's Rebecca Taylor. Coupled with spry, bright keyboards and wheezy beats, her vocals give it an old skool house feel. What could have sounded out of place, like flitting from station to station, is a brave and wholly successful move. It retains the dizzy joy of a Django Django song while offering something startling and new.
The bouncy and eternally optimistic "Champagne" bounds along with a typically fluid bass line. Credit must go to bassist Jimmy Dixon whose playful and expertly crafted bass lines hold the songs together which allows the band to explore different sounds and rhythms. None more so than on the rockabilly goes dub-infused "Tic-Tac Toe" that shows off one of vocalist Neff's catchiest and most playful hooks like a child with a new toy.
As the dust settles on the classic rock n roll riff of "Further" that marks the mid-point of the album, the album retreats into altogether calmer waters with "Sundials". Here the band interpose the piano motif from Jan Hammer's "The Seventh Day" with more avant-garde use of wind instruments and come up with a song that could have been written in the blinding, slow burn, Californian sunshine rather than in a warehouse in Tottenham, North London. The beauty and the beast, instant contrast of "Beam Me Up" sees the band wheel away in a more industrial-pop tangent with a hint of early Depeche Mode.
Their mining of the early '80s continues with the sure-footed "In The Beat" sounding like New Order exploring late '80s Detroit techno. It's another example of the band taking on different styles to shape and fashion into the Django Django mould. It's not always successful as on "Real Gone", where the band's attempt at a more '90s uptempo house sounds a little like an Orb remix of a '90s indie tune. However, when it does gel as on the jaunty, skittering closer of "Foundations", it's the aural equivalent of a confetti cannon.
Marble Skies manages to retain the charming diced and spliced sound of their debut while delighting in the sheer joy of experimentation. Crucially, the band have remembered what made that mix work so well, riffing on a rainbow of hooks and melodies but nudging it in experimental directions. Most importantly, it's a whole lot of fun. An album that invites you to throw your hands up in the air, fully engage your hips and shout 'Let's dance!'.