Interpol albums are a lot like monoliths: uniform and massive rock formations carved from a singular vision.
The New York City band specializes in monuments of gloomy modern rock — like misfit sculptors Joy Division, the Cure, or Television — chiseling ominous overtures that are magnificently strange, forbidding, and complex. Last year's self-titled release is a towering example. The band's fourth full-length is a wall of sound housing molten slabs of art rock, goth punk, black metal, and shimmering pop. To appreciate it all, you'll have to pull back the layers, slowly and repeatedly.
"Our new album is not a first-listen record," guitarist Daniel Kessler says of Interpol. "It's probably not even a second- or third-listen record. It's a fifth-listen record. It's hard to identify with that same notion now, but people have always said that about us. They just don't really get us at first, but after a while, after four or five listens, they really start enjoying the music."
Listener reaction to Interpol has been across the board. The album received lukewarm critical and commercial response, but opinions of the band's murky style of music tend to evolve over time. Our Love to Admire is still revealing dark and whispered secrets, and that album (the group's third) was released in 2007. Maybe that's the reason Interpol tour for so long after they release each record: If they play it long enough, people will start to listen. They've already performed more than 70 shows this year.
The constant touring has added even more dimensions to their art. At the Coachella music festival in April, Interpol played their song "Lights" while projecting a typically weird cartoon made by David Lynch. "He's one of the greatest artists of our time," says Kessler. "You can't just say filmmakers, you have to say artists. He creates his own language in films."
Mysterious cinematic worlds like Twin Peaks and Lost Highway are good comparisons to Interpol's music. Both are full of dreamy imagery, meticulous sound design, and mysterious protagonists. Interpol's mystery rose out of New York's post-punk-revival scene in 1997. Dressed in suits and playing debonair, nocturnal alt-rock, the band refined its image as the glossy, good-looking children of outcasts like the Birthday Party, the Fall, and Echo & the Bunnymen.
Interpol is similarly slick and dark. Tracks like "Success," "Barricade," and "Try It On" are aerodynamic bursts of energy, giving the album more velocity than any other Interpol record. There are always a few familiar-sounding dirges here and there (stuffed mostly in the back near the end of the album), but most songs feel like the band is shedding weight, resulting in a bony and streamlined record. "It's the next logical step," says Kessler. "We've liberated these songs a bit, structure-wise. We may have more orchestration and keyboards, but we're also being sparser in our playing when it makes sense. [It's] indicative of a band going in the right direction."
The direction starts with Kessler. When it comes to creating Interpol's dark tapestry of chamber punk, he's usually the master tailor bringing the group its song ideas, in skeletal form, before they're fleshed out into sophisticated, well-dressed wolves. Kessler's guitar style is simple but aggressive, capable of creating luminous rainbows of sliding strings.
The songs are then carried forward by Paul Banks' howling, baritone vocals. Obsessing over themes like isolation, love, sex, pain, and regret, he channels the tragic ghost of Ian Curtis, snarling cryptic lyrics like "Thieves and snakes need homes" on the recent single "Barricade." That fragmented imagery intertwines with Interpol's serpentine rhythm section of bass, drums, and keyboards, creating a caravan of ornate patterns. When placed side by side on an album, each song connects and grows into a unifying crochet of musical accordance.
Interpol is a statement about the unison of that complete record. It challenges listeners to unravel the art behind a 45-minute musical experience. As world-famous rockers (they've opened stadium shows for U2), Interpol have a big say in the way they make their music. But as the digital arena widens, and the single replaces the very idea of an album, bands like Interpol are finding it harder and harder to recreate the feeling of listening to a complete work.
"When we put out our first album 10 years ago, the internet wasn't the primary source in which people bought music," says Kessler. "Back when I bought a record, you spent time with it. The records I'd buy, they'd sit by my stereo for a month. Eventually you'd just put it in, and you'd be like Dude, I fucking love this thing. I don't think we live in that time any more."