By Mark Sussman
Interpol - Antics
8 out of 10
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Thursday, October 7, 2004
There is a point in even the worst depression where things just start to look better. For a brief moment, light shines through, interpolating darkness, breaking it up. The moment is not exactly one of joy, triumph or even happiness. Rather it comes from recognizing the absurdity of the situation, its apparently interminable bleakness. It could happen during the course of anything - a breakup, mourning, the drifting sprawl of despair - when suddenly, fleetingly, the situation is comic. It is a moment of simultaneous resignation and optimism. At the bottom looking up, depression becomes so all-consuming it is a parody of itself. And if despair can be parodied, it becomes suddenly manageable. There is laughter tinged with sadness. Melancholy.
Of the adjectives attached to Interpol, "depressing" is the one that appears most often. Even when their music is relatively upbeat (Antics' "Evil"), singer/guitarist Paul Banks' voice seems to cast a pall over whatever it touches. It carries with it the same serrated desperation as Joy Division's Ian Curtis, a seemingly irresistible reference point for the band as a whole. Rumor has it Banks had never even heard Joy Division until well into the recording of Interpol's 2002 debut Turn on the Bright Lights, which rings true. Banks never sounds like he's reaching for a contrived sound, something to signify "gloom." Even on the soft interludes in Antics' "Take You On A Cruise," the grit is missing from the vocals retain their signature high-strung murmur.
Antics isn't a radical departure from Bright Lights. Rather, the band mines the same territory to similar results: a batch of solid, mid-tempo songs, chiming, reverb-drenched guitars and plenty of variation to mask their essentially repetitive song structures.
For the most part the band seems to rest on a plateau. The single, "Slow Hands," exhibits a kind of maturity that is a mixed blessing. Probably the fastest, most excited song on the record, its chorus features the kind of precise sloppiness indie-rock latecomers die for, and Interpol helped popularize. "Slow Hands" is probably a near cousin to Bright Lights' "Obstacle 1," expressing a similar sense of urgency and cathartic crash in their choruses. Yet "Obstacle 1" had a menacing edge Antics never really approximates. The unforgettable choruses of "Obstacle 1" ("But it's different now that I'm poor and aging/I'll never see this place again/And you'll go stabbing yourself in the neck") were chilling upon first listen, an effect absent from Antics. A more "mature" sound always seems to preclude the violence of youth.
Perhaps another sign of this maturity is the theme of departure on Antics. Song titles like "Take You On A Cruise" and "Next Exit" gesture toward escapes and changes that appear in almost every song. When Banks sings "Love could be something real," on "C'mere," he sings about a hope too often drowned in irony on Turn on the Bright Lights. The ubiquitous fantasies of leaving on Antics are always a departure with someone, rather than away from someone. Eschewing the loneliness rather than reveling in it is perhaps one of the record's biggest steps away from the past.
On "Evil," a simple bass figure accumulates guitars. The bass initially sounds flat, descending and returning to its point of departure. When the guitars enter, the song retains its gloom, but layers of consonant distortion harmonize with the refrain ("Meanwhile can't we just look the other way?") and builds into a crescendo entangling sadness, hope and yearning. This song is a fairly typical example of the way Interpol makes their songs so effective, without seeming to do anything obviously special. They don't need an orchestra or trite lyrics to evoke emotion. What they have over most other rock bands is a healthy sense of the slow rise and fall of dynamics.
The Interpol crescendo might well be the thing for which the band is remembered. Shimmering and insistent, they seem to emerge from the blackness with a smirk, knowing it's going to keep hurting, but able to hold onto the moments it lets up for just a moment.