Album Review: Interpol, 'El Pintor'

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interpol el pintor
Interpol's album, El Pintor, releases Sept. 9, 2014. (© 2014 Matador Records.)

Around the turn of the century, there was massive excitement on both sides of the Atlantic and beyond for a slew of new guitar-based bands coming out of NYC. (Remember — that was before every new U.S. band seemed to reside in Brooklyn!)

Interpol always stood apart from others like The Strokes and The Walkmen, though; the core of their sound is keening, sustained guitar tones rather than the jagged riffs of the others. And now Interpol stand apart from all of them by surviving — or should we say "re-grouping" — to make their fifth record. El Pintor means "painter" in Spanish, but more significantly is an anagram of the band's name. This sums up the sound, too: It's classic Interpol, just rearranged enough to make something new and cohesive.

During the four-year hiatus since their last self-titled album, all three remaining members went their separate ways, both musically and otherwise. Guitarist Daniel Kessler opened a seafood restaurant in Brooklyn, which sounds like an Onion headline! But they'd already lost their founding bassist Carlos, so here, Paul Banks handles the bass as well as his signature vocals and they get keyboard help from Secret Machines' man Brandon Curtis and a little inflection of violin on the final track from Bon Iver man Rob Moose.

Fans across the States are obviously desperate to see the band again; many of the clubs are sold out already on an extensive tour starting Sept. 15, in Vancouver, B.C., and visiting First Avenue on Nov 14.

The set lists from their warm-up shows at The Bowery Ballroom in NYC last week show Interpol playing four songs from the new album. Internet response to that show was favorable, and a few video clips seem to suggest that Interpol are sounding as powerful as ever. Many of the album reviews have been positive, too, with NPR saying they've "aged into [their] polished sound nicely" and NME giving the album an 8 out of 10, calling it a "return to form".

The first song that we've been playing for a couple of weeks, "All The Rage Back Home", leads off the album and remains the strongest and catchiest track after repeated listens to the full length. But it's a nicely paced 40 minutes. Another strong song, the third track, "Anywhere", is undermined a tad by the lyrics, which probably should not have been so prominently displayed in the artwork. There's an interesting tonal lull in the middle. Track 5, "My Supreme Blue", is the most un-Interpol track of the lot, with Paul's voice varying in delivery three or four times within the same song. His voice is great in a certain register, but for me has always lacked a little nuance.

Interpol hit their stride with the next three tracks, building nicely on their legacy; "Everything is Wrong" seems to ask the most pertinent questions: "Am I more soulful, or am I coming down now? Can we start over as agents of peace?" Truly impressing me is track 7, "Breaker 1", which here seems to encapsulate all that is good about their return and possibly refers back to their 2002 album Turn on the Bright Lights, which had a track called "Obstacle 1". Although, as has been pointed out elsewhere, some of these lyrics beg for explanation: "There is a slope like an appetite" Huh?!

Their song structure often does a great job of teasing us into position for the payoff, but never quite manages the last act. On "Ancient Ways", Interpol present the full package both within the song and as a peak for the whole album … which then fizzles out a little with the last two tracks.

But with a dearth of strong, mid-career, guitar-based bands around right now, it is good to have these guys back, refreshed and focused, making an album that more than adequately adds to their canon and will provide those all important three or four songs to a live set list now sprinkled with so many hits, they can apparently afford to leave out "The Heinrich Maneuver", which brought us the great opening line, "How are things on the West Coast?"

As for Interpol on the East Coast? They're moving real fine.

What do you think of the album? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

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