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The Districts - You Know I'm Not Going Anywhere (Album Review)

Thursday, 19 March 2020 Written by Graeme Marsh

Photo: Shervin Lainez

There’s something about the Districts’ fourth album ‘You Know I’m Not Going Anywhere’ that screams North American. Of course, being based near Philadelphia that’s exactly what they are, but the DNA here is shared with the likes of the Decemberists (a slightly quirky element) and also with their Canadian neighbours the New Pornographers (sugary pop) and even Arcade Fire (anthemic stylings).

Interestingly, this is not how the band’s previous three albums have come across. Frontman Rob Grote has changed a few things since 2017’s ‘Popular Manipulations’, opting to indulge a heavy electronic presence during writing, instead of acoustic demos, with software utilised alongside a burgeoning collection of keyboards.

Take the glitzy single Hey Jo as an example. Bright synths battle against a depiction of a faltering relationship, with the use of “fuck” at the forefront of a gorgeous chorus also helping to create a conflicting atmosphere.

Opposing elements aside, it’s the shiny ‘80s keys that provide the song with its essence. The shimmering vibrations of And The Horses All Go Swimming have their heart in a similar place, this time nudging towards one of several Arcade Fire moments, as does the vibrantly catchy Velour and Velcro.

The record follows on from a confusing time as the band, Grote in particular, worked through a transitional period in their lives as well as side projects like Grote’s Goat Mumbles, with this album “written as an escape and reassurance”. Fittingly, the escapism was real and recording took place over several weeks of isolation in a remote, snow-covered cabin in Hudson Valley, New York. Despite the synthetic palette, this setting occasionally echoes in the songs.

Sorrowful closer 4th of July is much more minimal, with its whistled melody carrying an annoying quality if you let it worm inside your head. The hand-clapping and wailed vocals of opener My Only Ghost are similarly irritating, but these are fleeting elements, as though they are bookending the main event. 

And for that, take a look at the anthemic chorus of Changing, the Feeder-esque full-throttle rush of Sidecar or the serenely hooky The Clouds. Most of all though, Cheap Regrets’ upbeat tempo, pulsing rhythm and hypnotic bassline are excellent, with Grote singing, “I put my head into my hands”. Then, for a nod to the past, Descend appears like a fading trace of how acoustic guitars have previously shaped the band’s songs.

The Districts have always been a little difficult to pigeonhole accurately, melding folk, rock and blues together but, remarkably, this is a band still only in their mid-20s. The mature sound they are beginning to sketch out is clear, with the expansion beyond the limitations of acoustic demos perhaps the driver. Are they on the brink of stepping out from the shadows of their successful peers? On this evidence, it’s increasingly likely.

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