The Districts, “Popular Manipulations”
The Districts turn the mundane into bombastic epics, the commonplace into life-affirming anthems. Not unlike fellow Philadelphians The War on Drugs, The Districts strive for an earnest grandiosity devoid of winks, irony, or a sly grin. This is rock and roll like they used to do, full of big sounds and gut-punching melodies. Their third LP—and second for Fat Possum—Popular Manipulations will make you want to punch a hole through a wall while maintaining a toothy grin.
Take the album’s first single, “Ordinary Day,” for example. Over a quietly strummed acoustic guitar, frontman Rob Grote enlists a half-falsetto to lure the listener in: “An ordinary sunset / An ordinary day.” Here’s the catch, my friends. This is no ordinary sunset, no ordinary day. The drums come rumbling in, the guitars trade out their hollow bodies for an electric shimmer, and Grote’s quiet voice grows to a confident howl. This is how most of Popular Manipulations works: starts modest, grows bolder, ends up on a mountaintop.
While The Districts may be lacking a bit in terms of explicit originality, they more than make up for it in confidence and detail. Beneath the surface of these hooky anthems lie complexities and subtle tricks. “Violet” owes its pulse to Braden Lawrence’s drum work, and “Capable” reaches its affecting peak thanks to Connor Jacobus’s melodic bass work.
The Districts sound a bit like the Brooklyn band Suckers, blending chart-topping hooks with just enough weirdness and psychedelia to remain effective and impactful. Popular Manipulations ends with the Raymond Carver–referencing “Will You Please Be Quiet Please?,” a track that finds Grote mimicking Spencer Krug’s famous yelp. The vocals are performed as a layered chant, backed by a plucky guitar and an impeccable shaker. The track grows and grows, the perfect encapsulation of The Districts’ mission to always find the loudest and catchiest route possible. And, to answer the song’s final question, the answer is a resounding no. The Districts will not stay quiet, no matter how nicely you ask.