It’s been a big year for The Districts. Following the release of a self-titled EP in early 2014, they’ve sold out shows in the US, played all over Europe, and supported the likes of The Decemberists. On some level, though, they’re still just four beanie-clad under 21s, producing bluesy rock with the slightest tinge of grunge. That tinge being the fact that every song on their new album, A Flourish and a Spoil, sounds like it’s come out on the worse end of a fight with a particularly angry cat. Gloriously unpolished, the scratches hark back to The Districts’ roots as a high school cover band.
The murky opener that is ‘4th and Roebling’ sets the tone for the album: frontman Rob Grote’s fuzzy vocals – think early Strokes tracks – slur the lyrics; a vaguely 70s-rock sound builds to a raucous finish. Its ramshackle nature gives the sense of a Libertines influence, but the British frankness is replaced with its slicker American counterpart. It’s a continuation of what they started in their debut, Telephone.
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This being said, the new album also shows the band experimenting a little, trying ideas outside the straightforward rock box. There’s an interesting attempt to work in a rippling drum-machine beat on ‘Bold’, which is fairly successful; the opening of ‘Hounds’ is bluesier than anything they’ve done before, as well as being the closest this album comes to a memorable riff. While the majority of the songs’ subject matter remains focused on small-town experiences – Grote sticks to the mantra of ‘write what you know’ – we’re made to search for the meaning. The lyrics are cloaked in metaphor and obscure personal references: “stories that are glimmering / with the light that reflected off these marigolds / that caught my neck / when I hit the ground”, we hear in ‘6 AM’. There’s a sense of stream-of-consciousness to it; we read into the words what we want to.
Halfway through the album, there’s the acoustic break of ‘Suburban Smell’. In terms of sound, it could almost be a Front Bottoms track. Lyrically, it’s where the band’s exhaustion with small-town life becomes most apparent. It simultaneously recounts the experience of watching the “rich kids” mock a disabled person, and conjures perfectly the atmosphere of a deadening American suburb. As the only acoustic track on the album, it acts as the eye of the band’s fuzz-rock storm.
A Flourish and a Spoil is hit-and-miss in some respects. Tracks like ‘Chlorine’ and ‘Heavy Begs’ are largely forgettable – but when they get it right, The Districts are brilliant. ‘Young Blood’, the penultimate 9-minute mammoth, pulls us down to the depths of Grote’s sadness: “it’s a long way down from the top to the bottom / it’s a long way back to a high from where I am”. There are points when the album transcends a simple definition, and it’s difficult to isolate their specific influences. A Flourish and a Spoil is both a product of the band’s small-town upbringing, and a signifier of their escape from it.
Words by Priya Bryant