21st Century Music: Interpol
21st Century Music are playlists and profiles that focus on artists that have released their music since 2000. These highlight new(er) acts that continue the sound and spirit of the older acts that are the focus of Ceremony. Click on the streaming service of your choice below to listen to the playlist as you read along (no YouTube playlist due to non-availability of quality recordings of much of Interpol's music).
One of the better acts of the last twenty years has been Interpol. They were part of a wave of New York rock bands that gave hope to us modern rockers that there was going to be a resurgence of rock after a lull in the dying years of the last century. It wasn’t to be as dance and EDM, hip hop, and a dozen other genres competed for space in a growing cacophony of musical choices. Rock lives on in these modern times, but it has never regained the stature it once had. Similarly, the excitement Interpol’s music gave us also faded away as they proceeded to release album after album of like-sounding albums. It’s good that their sound is so great, but as they currently tour their sixth album it’s most notable characteristic is how much it sounds the same as the prior five.
Interpol was formed by guitarist Daniel Kessler and drummer Greg Drudy. Kessler invited into the band bassist (and NYU schoolmate) Carlos Dengler and soon after singer and guitarist Paul Banks, establishing the initial quartet in 1997. Drudy left in 2000 and was replaced by Sam Fogarino; and the new line-up released a few singles and EPs leading to a signing with Matador Records and the release of their first album, Turn on the Bright Lights, in 2002. Interpol caught my attention when their album was reviewed by Toronto Star music writer, Ben Rayner. He favourably compared them to Joy Division, and knowing Rayner was a big fan of Joy Division, I felt he wouldn’t make such a comparison lightly. After hearing the album, I was hooked, loving the modern take on the dark, post-punk pop of the early ‘80s. I saw Interpol at Kool Haus in Toronto in the fall of 2003 and, dressed in black suits they put on a stellar show.
Indeed, Interpol started out plagued with comparisons to many bands of the early ‘80s, sometimes with glee and from others with disdain. But there was no denying the debut album was a great work and a much needed shot in the arm to modern rock that hadn’t had that spirit around here in far too long. The album featured many strong, mid- to low-tempo songs riding strong, darkly textured rhythm sections that fit nicely with Banks’ baritone vocals. Interspersing the album was several driving, guitar accented songs that gave it energy and completed the makings of a certain classic album of the young millennium. As is often the case with such examples, it didn’t get much attention outside of the alternative music circles, though almost cracked the top 100 in the UK with a #101 spot.
Perhaps to chase the nostalgia comparisons they re-released the first single from the album, “Obstacle 1,” with a remix from famed producer/DJ Arthur Baker to give the song some lighter, dancier touches – though it may not have helped that Baker was also famous for working with post-Joy Division act, New Order. The second album, Antics, would produce a more polished, accessible version of their sound. Like the first album, there wasn’t a bad song on the album and it again laid out a perfect balance of their rich, melodic ballads and punchy, punky, power-pop tunes. I find that critics prefer the first album, but fans look to the second. Antics established Interpol a successful base to work on, reaching #15 in the US and #21 in the UK.
The band has continued to produce an album every three or four years since, and in the modern dynamic of music metrics, the following four albums have charted better than the first two while selling far less. They also went through a line-up change after the fourth, self-titled album, with Dengler leaving the band and Banks taking on the bass. The band has remained a trio though has had two regular touring members since Dengler’s departure.
The third album was released by major label, Capitol, but Interpol returned to indie Matador for the subsequent three albums. It’s the indie spirit and consistent sound of their albums that has limited their major label attractiveness and the sustainment of a larger following. The third LP, Our Love to Admire, was another solid album but lacked the standout moments of the prior two, and the following three albums have all had great spots to sink your teeth into, but more and more the sounds tread familiar ground. El Pintor is probably their least interesting album but does have the sublime and lovely “Same Town, New Story” on it and the interesting, shoegazer-like guitar frenzy of “Ancient Ways.” The new album, Marauder, again has some interesting moments but again is just so much Interpol. No longer battling the comparison risks of ‘80s era bands, the band now can’t escape its own reach.
Regardless, few bands have produced as rich, melodic, and engaging modern rock as Interpol. Their distinctive sound recalls the past but embraces the present, and has given us some new, great material to enjoy in the 21st century, keeping the modern rock vibe alive in well.
The Playlist - song\album (year)
- Untitled \ Turn on the Bright Lights (2002)
- Roland \ Turn on the Bright Lights (2002)
- Obstacle 1 (Arthur Baker’s Return to New York Mix – Edit) \ non-album single (2003)
- Evil \ Antics (2004)
- Slow Hands \ Antics (2004)
- Length of Love \ Antics (2004)
- The Scale \ Our Love to Admire (2007)
- Pace is the Trick \ Our Love to Admire (2007)
- Barricade \ Interpol (2010)
- Safe Without \ Interpol (2010)
- Same Town, New Story \ El Pintor (2014)
- Ancient Ways \ El Pintor (2014)
- If You Really Love Nothing \ Marauder (2018)
- It Probably Matters \ Marauder (2018)