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El Pintor Lior Phillips , September 18th, 2014 12:39

There is one line on El Pintor, Interpol's fifth new album that cuts right to the quick. Paul Banks, summoning a falsetto mightier than anything we've heard from him before, slowly starts to assemble his mood within a blizzard of scourging guitar chords, deliberating the unforgiving conundrums of life that are weighing him down. He chants, "Feels like the whole world is up on my shoulders." And if that, that bitter fusion of delusion and desperation is not a picture-perfect distillation of what it means to live in this era, no matter how old you are, it's difficult to know what is. It's the kind of piercing, direct and honest Interpol-ian delineation that we're seeing again from this longstanding band.

If that sounds unpromising and austere in theory, it isn't. In practice, Interpol's sound is richly melodic, a shiny heed back to those halcyon New York rock days, with clean-tight production stretched over 12 years. No matter what phase of the band's career you'd consider their best (cue memorial violins for their last album) we were spoiled from the start. It's made us obnoxious, constantly expecting more; more lyrically! More malleability! More progression! Irrespective, there will always be that one simple and unifying link: Interpol are a paragon of Americana post-punk alt-rock and El Pintor feels archetypically charged up. They sound like a band honing in on their skill rather than overhauling what they do, and in the grand scheme of their career this feels a timely release. It's crucial for them to shed the weight of their accumulated "baggage" and delve deep into what made them so influential to begin with. For starters, longtime bass-virtuoso Carlos Dengler has left the band, so this album marks the first bar without him. El Pintor is the sound of a band lifting the weight from the past four years up off their shoulders, as if going from a squat to a full standing release. You can hear they're pushing, and that's the only thing we should expect from a band of this stature; A slow-rise back up to the top.

In a world where almost everything comes with inverted commas and ambiguous schematics, this album deals in shameless indie-rock. There's nothing ironic or knowing about Bank's approach - even the title is a neat scrabble of their name. It's refreshing, in a pretentious, but charming middle-finger-to-the-naysayers way. In 2004, most of us spent months trying not to like their album, Antics, just because Turn On The Bright Lights was so paramount to their career. But, Antics was a double-hitter, so the confusion began when the tempo started dragging on Our Love To Admire, extrapolating those last two albums and proving a shocking departure from the forceful bounce felt during songs like 'Obstacle 1' and 'Slow Hands.' It shuttled Interpol's sonic tics to ones you'd more readily associate with hyped up pop-rock instead of late 70's - mid 80's emotionally charged, lushly melodic and brutally choppy compositions. Whether they felt the need to expand into a wider audience or use a new production team (I firmly believe Peter Katis was somewhat responsible for their early artistic integrity) if lead singer Paul Banks hadn't created his alter ego Julian Plenti, looking back on their music during the period of 2007 – 2013 might seem slightly disappointing.

But Interpol have consistently excelled at creating highly potent self-contained atmospheres, and the overall feeling on El Pintor is pure despair and disbelief. It rides energetic swathes of bristling electric guitar that grin across two-word catchphrases Bank's manages to deliver like commandments; 'Come Down' (Same Town New Story), 'Come Back' (Breaker 1) and 'Hold On' (Everything Is Wrong). Banks, founding member Daniel Kessler and drummer Sam Fogarino are living proof of two things. One: there is no 'I' in threesome, and, two: They're expertly pitching this album somewhere between that wistfulness and disdainfulness; the vernacular of it all feels like they're genuinely trying to work together. El Pintor signposts that emotional temperament right from the beginning: monumental opener 'All The Rage Back Home' is immediately jarring; the licks of guitar talking to that agitation that defines the whole album and when it builds up speed the song grows, like trees screaming up to the sky. That menacing percussion announces their return, and it's explicitly clear that Interpol are 'The Heinrich Maneuver'-ing again. It sets the tone of the album; elegiac echoed guitars swelling into anthemic territory moored by falsetto vocals and refined arrangements.

Interpol peaks when Banks sounds profoundly unstable, untamed and completely frantic. Is it sadistic to enjoy him sounding defeated? Clawing his way up? Perhaps. He draws his vocal and lyrical power from his surroundings and 'Anywhere' is a prime slice of hysteria wrought around a rock-tight composition. When the songs chaos engulfs him, he possesses a gleeful energy that cleaves right down to the bone pushing through inside-out percussions and hitting him like a punch to the stomach. The triumphant posture of 'Same Town New Story' sounds like a poisoned boxer throwing out laconic punches. An easy contender for Greatest Hits. If you're going to take up four minutes of someone's time talking about the weight of the world, you might as well do it with this song. It bares a relentless surge of power bolstered by Kessler and it's his arsenal of moody sonorous plucking that taunts the cymbal-led back-end. Both the guitars begin to entwine: one plucks, one bows, then both wrench free. Even if they choose to savour old subject matter (envy, love and disdain) they deliver a homily on the new world of Interpol. They're suddenly illuminated and repelled by life, as Banks asks, "Am I more soulful?" on 'Everything Is Wrong' as if he's facing judgment and trying his best to make it right. It's these moments that are nothing short of thrilling.

During the more down-tempo beats, Banks sounds a little adrift, his tirade on 'My Blue Supreme' coming off as jaded, but never deflated. "When love comes honey take it, only one in a hundred make it," he sings, then refutes the sentiment with, "we fake until there's nothing to fake." That honesty feels significant, and when 'Breaker 1' chimes in after the midsection we find Banks on his knees confessing, "This beast inside me, he leads the way", as if the gloomy narrative is perpetuated by the subtly catchy grating hook. Despite its murky, static-charged sound, 'Ancient Ways' supports a sense of longing and struggle expressed through Banks drone, "Ooh fuck the ancient ways!" he says. The persistent beat of fluid guitar and pounding percussion renders an intent from deep inside the lead singer. The past is now awake and ready to access a renewed fight.

Is this fully accomplished here throughout the sprawling 10 tracks? It's not wholly convincing, but underneath it all, the melodies sound nostalgic, and enlightened – a contrarian whiplash reaction only a band like Interpol could get away with. Aside from the would-be-scorcher-if-it-wasn't-a-ballad, 'Twice As Hard', they balance perfectly on three legs, like a well-positioned tripod. So think of El Pintor then like a freshly taken photograph with the edges lit on fire - a burning image signifying a new time connecting the past nostalgia with the present tense.