The Districts – Popular Manipulations (2017, Fat Possum Records)

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. A group of high schoolers form a band deep in the heart of Amish country. Within time, their dynamite sound attracts listeners and nails them a contract with Fat Possum Records. If you’re a fan of Spiritualized and The Black Keys, then you’ve heard the label already. In a few short years, the band tours many festivals and opens for My Morning Jacket and the Rolling Stones. Magazines like NME and Consequence of Sound are promoting every new single and tour update. Finally, off the cuff of all the newfound success, they release a new album. Let’s fill in the blanks: the band is The Districts. They hail from the small town of Lititz, PA (also the quiet epicenter of the big name live entertainment industries). Years after forming at Warwick High School, they are releasing their new album, “Popular Manipulations.”

“If Before I Wake” opens with swirling guitar drones and Grote’s smooth baritone vocals. As the band kicks in, the warm guitars and vocal harmonies are directly reminiscent of David Bowie’s “Low” trilogy. The psychedelic sound is absolutely energetic, making for one of the best album openers you’ll hear all year. The galloping love vibes of “Violet” and “Ordinary Day” contain walls of beautiful pop hooks and distortion that will make you cry. On “Salt” and “Why Would I Wanna Be,” the noise quiets slightly with delicate vocal melodies and clanging guitars. “Point” is one of the album’s best tracks, as a distinct doo-wop groove swings under the addicting pop melodies. “Airplane” continues the wall of distortion, while “Fat Kiddo” breathes mellotron flute melodies over a hip-hop influenced groove. In the album’s final act, each track exponentially increases the powerful beauty that has been rising throughout the album. By the time “Will You Please Be Quiet Please?” ends, it’s like watching a red sunset descending beneath the horizon.

While the songs deal with themes of love, loneliness, and isolation, “Popular Manipulations” is a strangely uplifting record. Every melody is alluring and captivating. The production, as bombastic as it is, manages to create catharsis and engages the listener. Not to mention, every single song is downright catchy. While the band has generated little controversy over their new sound, the album is nevertheless powerful. And to be honest, I’m almost confident that those “upset” over the Bowie/Killers references are just trolling. For all their influences here, The Districts have managed to sound like nothing else out there. They’ve graduated from their energetic blues sound into something mature and beyond their years. They felt like a real band touring with My Morning Jacket, but now they’re sounding like one too. “Popular Manipulations” is the best album The Districts have released yet, and good enough to be in my top 20.

Title: Popular Manipulations

Artist: The Districts

Genre: Indie rock/garage rock

Available at all major music stores on Friday! Listen to the album stream at NPR here: http://www.npr.org/2017/08/03/538646622/first-listen-the-districts-popular-manipulations

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