Interpol – Turn on the Bright Lights

Turn on the Bright Lights

A couple of weeks ago I sang the praises of this band’s debut, a three-song EP for Matador. A mercifully short time after I bought the EP, the full-length is released, saving me months of tense anticipation. If you don’t know by now, Interpol are a four-piece band from New York who are getting lumped into both of the hip New York aesthetics right now: the 70s aping “rock” of the Strokes, and the frantic post-punk of bands like the Liars and the Yeah Yeah Yeah’s. And while they do hail from the same streets, their style and writing places them well outside either of those movements. Instead of relying on the sinewy rock of Television and the Velvet Underground or the jarring rhythm and burn of Gang of Four, Interpol recall the early 80s art-punk movement: The Talking Heads, Joy Division, even the Smiths.
The album opens with a spare untitled number. A guitar gently down-stroked opens up to an atmospheric wash of rhythm and texture, while singer Paul Banks repetitively floats a single line over the stream: “I will surprise you sometime / I’ll come around.” Much has been made to this point of Banks’s voice, which while often compared to the tortured, percussive howl of Ian Curtis. There is a similarity, but Banks owes more to David Byrne’s ringing clarity and Morrisey’s poetic anguish than to Curtis. “Obstacle 1” is the next number on the album, and one of its best. The chiming, down-stroked guitars return (as they will on every song), but this time they carry a trotting punch until they erupt into a torrent of power chords, with a distorted Banks lamenting places and faces he’ll never see again.
“NYC,” the EP’s best title, is still a standout: the gush of guitars that swirl through the second verse are perhaps the album’s best moment. “Say Hello to the Angels” is a Smiths homage of the highest order, a rollicking “This Charming Man” at the end of its rope. “Obstacle 2” is yet another stellar track, with Banks singing “Friends don’t waste wine when there’s words to sell.” Its bouncy rhythm and singsong vocals make it the most head-bobbing track on the album. “Stella Was a Diver and She Was Always Down” is a dark, up-tempo number with almost military drums and a dime-stop chorus. “Roland” is probably the closest the band comes to the early 80s punk scene, with Banks again hiding under distortion and the band blazing through a rapid fire burst of chiming chords. “The New” is a slow-burner until the coda, where the guitars ascend Fugazi-style to a angry peak. “Leif Erikson” closes the album on a pretty, if forgettable note.
Some websites are hailing this band as rock’s next great thing, and while I’m not totally convinced, this is an extremely impressive debut. Think Clinic: a young band with a unique sound that it has already nearly perfected by its first full-length. It’s damned impressive, but it begs the question: where do they grow? That question, however, isn’t fair to the band or the album, an album that came out less than two weeks ago. Quite frankly, if the songwriting was good enough, this exact formula could probably get them through a couple more albums. But I’m not contemplating the future. Turn on the Bright Lights is baritone pop, iced over with perfectly stiff guitars and a cryptic singer. Hell, this stuff is excellent. It sounds like the Ramones covering OK Computer. It’s also one of the best debuts of the year.