Fans of scuzzy alt-rock with belting choruses and catchy hooks need look no further than Popular Manipulations, the 3rd record from Pennsylvanian 4 piece The Districts. Harking back to the sound of the mid noughties and the proliferation of ‘guitar bands’, The Districts have cherry picked the best of that period and mixed it into what is heard on Popular Manipulations. The vocal inflections of Rob Grote bear an uncanny semblance to Sam’s Town era Brandon Flowers, and the ever-near descent into chaos apes Arcade Fire at that Funeral best. This isn’t to say that The Districts are merely a carbon-copy band; far from it. Popular… is a great record on its own merits.
Stand-out tracks include ‘If Before I Wake’, an anthemic start to the record, a hands in the air singalong which really sets the mood for the rest of the record, and slow-burner ‘Salt’, which builds towards a crashing crescendo in the final minutes of the tracks. Occasionally, Grote’s lyrics border on the inane (‘The point is besides the point now’) , but on the whole, the lyrics are crafted to root their way into the listener’s head (‘Thunder woke me up/it was stormy in the city/I was suddenly wide awake/sitting in the darkness/ when my eyes they had adjusted/I was on my own/on my o-w-nnnnnnnnnn’), the first words heard on the record.
For a band still in their early 20’s, Popular Manipulations shows definite upwards mobility. With beats’n’blips the latest musical trend, The Districts are in a narrow field of rock and roll guitar bands in the traditional sense, and they should be cherished for being such. To paraphrase from Spinal Tap, ‘Turn it up to 11, man’. This is a record designed to be played loud.