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CD of The Week

Week of 1/29/18

    Django Django - Marble Skies (Ribbon)

    There were always going to be high stakes for a new Django Django album, a band known for ambition, where influences run free and albums cover a lot of stylistic ground. If Marble Skies, their third album, is any indication, this is also a band that responds to these high stakes with change.

    The album kicks off clearly influenced by the 80s, with synth riffs and waves weaving through the title track. There have always been echoes of new wave in Django Django's work, so this isn't surprising, but the way these elements are used is definitely different. If this is the goal, perhaps nowhere is it as clear as "In Your Beat," a straightforward dance number which cleverly calls back to the standard club-mix breakdown by using ascending and descending intervals to add a subtly unresolved framework to the song. This is often the story on Marble Skies; the songwriting has standardized, the wrinkles have been ironed out, and a Django Django stamp has been added to the polished final piece.

    This polish means that for all the 80s influence here, the final product still feels like a product of today's scene. It's hard not to hear shades of recent Beck in some of these tracks, or even recent tracks from The Shins. "Sundials" could easily have been a B-side from the latter's most recent outing.

    For all there is to say about the changes on this album, there are still glimpses of the past, and plenty of quirks to remind you exactly who you're hearing. "Tic Tac Toe" would fit perfectly in their back catalog with just a slight tone change and "Fountains," despite a slick, shuffling backbeat, travels in the same circles as their early work. In a similar vein, "Beam Me Up" brings to mind empty corridors, dredging up some of the colder uncertainty of previous albums. Those moments of tension and isolation which feel essential to earlier work are brought into the background, adding texture to the comparatively chill vibe of the new.

    Frontman Vincent Neff's vocals haven't changed, either, although he's using them differently. The harmonies being created have less tension, even if the vocal lines often carry the familiar phrasings of old albums. The paranoid, almost robotic feel that the vocals brought to early singles like "Default" is mostly missing, but we still have moments where the harmonies approach something closer to the Meat Puppets (such as in "Real Gone"), which, as a product of the 90s, has always been a treat for me.  

    The band itself may sum the album up best when they say "I still hear the drum we used to beat." While longtime fans will likely notice what has changed above all else, repeated listens prove that the familiar pulse of Django Django is still there to be found.

    Review by Alex Lupica

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