By Melanie Broussalian
Indie-rock outfit The Districts returns with their newest LP, Great American Painting, an exploration of the paradox of the modern American Dream. The signature sounds from legendary producer Joe Chiccarelli (Spoon, The Strokes, Broken Social Scene) are found throughout the record, with a sonic through line ranging from the soaring and triumphant to subdued and introspective. The album opens with “Revival Psalm,” a strong, shoegaze-y track reminiscent of early Killers, with a semi-haunting quality in the synth and guitar sounds that reflects the lyrics, “Revival psalm/black magic/you’ll survive again.”
The band breaks new ground on their well-crafted indie rock sound, creating a record that pays homage to The Libertines and U2, while adding their own signature. There’s a certain openness that makes the listener feel as though vocalist and guitarist Rob Grote is letting his voice – figuratively and literally – shine through more than ever. The same could be said lyrically as the Philadelphia-based band tries to find hope in an America where our collective ideals are crumbling around us. That theme is most apparent on the record’s second track and most outwardly vocal statement, “No Blood.” Underneath an upbeat drum beat and guitar riff sits a self-described “emotionally charged rumination about gun violence, stemming from the Philadelphia band’s unnerving experience when their 2015 show at Paris’ La Cigale, the Bataclan’s nearby sister venue, was locked down and canceled by security during the tragic terrorist attack.”
However, there is an undying sense of hope and levity that’s present throughout the record, with U2-esque tracks like “Do it Over” and “Long End” that refuse to surrender to the seemingly never-ending hopelessness of today’s world. “White Devil” is an especially catchy song, delivering on the nostalgia of early 2000s New York indie rock that still offers something new to fans of the genre. “I Want to Feel it All” is the most distinctive track on the record, exploring a more Beck-like approach that lends itself well to the band—if anything, it would be interesting to see them head more towards this direction and build on what they’ve started to tap into here. The final song, “On Our Parting, My Beloved” is a gradual, reverb-heavy build, that celebrates the simple beauty of existence. Great American Painting is one of The Districts’ most concise and homogeneous work, which actually has allowed them to take a definitive step forward sonically and lyrically. There’s no questioning their growth, and it certainly will be a joy to see what they can accomplish next.