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Album Of The Week

Rip It Up And Start Again: Special Interest’s Endure
Alastair Shuttleworth , November 3rd, 2022 10:10

The New Orleans quartet push their sound to a new level, finds Alastair Shuttleworth

Photo by Alexis Gross

Special Interest's marriage of ideas from punk and dance music has always felt credibly in service to a constructive, open-hearted take on political music. In their records to date, the New Orleans group's music vests socially urgent messaging with the dancefloor's spirit of community and free expression.

Since their earliest incarnation, this marriage has been driven by the same pairing of Alli Logout's wildly expressive vocals with dark, driving EBM. Despite gradually refining their sound into the cool granite slab of 2020's The Passion Of, the band have steadfastly relied on the same broad palette, and their own early convictions of what Special Interest ought to be. On their third album, Endure, this is finally unsettled. Here the band are experimenting with an expanded set of sounds and genre conventions towards their most inventive, penetrating music to date.

This transformation is felt in the opening moments of 'Cherry Blue Intention'. The track trades previous album The Passion Of's liberal use of reverb for a crisper, closer-sounding production. The rationale quickly becomes clear. Special Interest have become wonderfully accomplished writers of vocal hooks, which in this cleaner setting are layered to striking effect. The result is a playful, technicolour extrapolation of their dance leanings, sealed by Logout with a kiss into the microphone. '(Herman's) House' proves this brighter sound's potential to advance weighty political narratives – referencing the late revolutionary Herman Wallace, who spent decades in solitary confinement. With bright house pianos and whooping gang vocals, Special Interest transform this story of injustice into a joyous cry for liberation, inviting listeners to share in the dismantling of oppressive systems. "Let's tear it down!" Logout yells.

This ecstatic, lurid reimagining of themselves reaches its most extreme point in 'Foul'. The frustrations of low-paid, menial labour are conveyed through a breathless combination of roars, siren-impressions, and call-and-response vocals: "Short staffed / Overworked / Sleep-deprived / It's an art / Tedious chat / Eek, a rat!" Here, layers of vocal hooks compound exhaustion, frustration, and feigned cheerfulness into a grotesque tangle, powerfully presenting what it means to 'endure' in grimly unfulfilling work. Special Interest's use of brighter, more melodic sounds on this album does not seem designed to give their music broader appeal ('Foul' is the weirdest song here), but rather as a means to access more sophisticated forms of messaging.

Having reached this extreme, Endure undergoes a change of course. The consecutive tracks – 'Love Scene', 'Kurdish Radio' and 'My Displeasure' – are bound by wet textures and monolithic structures reminiscent of The Passion Of. The gang vocals of Endure's early songs are stripped away in favour of straighter, darker vocal performances. With this, Logout turns their attention inwards, offering earnest explorations of race ('Kurdish Radio'), heartbreak and sexuality ('Love Scene', which Logout frames with stage directions). Returning to where their previous record left off, Endure's second act reveals a bleakness, anger and muscularity – a palette with its own vitality distinct from that acquired earlier on. The album's first act, in its departure from these qualities, is debunked as anything so pat as a straightforward improvement.

The contrast between these two sections is thrillingly reconciled elsewhere in Endure. 'Impulse Control' is as playful, vivid and inventive as the album's opening tracks, but is an altogether more physical, furious affair. The piano from '(Herman's) House' returns in the break, but is bashed tunelessly. Where 'Cherry Blue Intention' closed with a kiss; 'Impulse Control' ends with a belch. 'Concerning Peace', wrapped in howling guitars and screaming synths, stomps towards an album-highlight hook. "We are not concerned with peace!" scream Endure's returning gang-vocals. It is in the clarity of these later tracks, rather than the extremity of 'Foul', that Special Interest complete the creative transformation at the heart of the album.

Special Interest's embrace of new ideas across Endure is backed not only by ambition, but believable sincerity. Across their two albums to date, Spiraling and The Passion Of, they have released the songs 'Disco I', 'Disco II' and 'Disco III', each of them an apparently ironically titled capsule of searing EBM. On Endure's 'Midnight Legend', the band earnestly attempt (and succeed) in producing a song that lovingly embraces disco's conventions. Reaching out to girls in the club who aren't having as good a time as it might seem, Logout's vocals are open-hearted and unaffected. "I'm just here to listen," Logout sings, their rich, elastic voice pulling off this song's gorgeous pop hook as convincingly as the obscenity-strewn screams of 'Impulse Control'.

As Endure comes to a grand, theatrical close – an instrumental 'Interlude' preceding eight-minute closing track 'LA Blues' – Logout turns to the album's title. From Herman Wallace in prison to workers in soul-crushing jobs, Endure deals with several different forms of fortitude. Finally, they are left to question the positive framing we often give to such endurance: "Do we really get stronger, or do we stay the same?" While no real answer is given here, Endure makes its own arguments. Through music and lyrics exploring breaking and rebuilding, it is suggested that we will not achieve our potential by merely persisting through hardship, but growing and learning despite it.

Endure presents Special Interest's most inventive, playful and accomplished music to date. Commanding its expanded palette with sincerity and ambition, it serves the group's political and personal arguments with a newfound incisiveness. Its real masterstroke, however, is that it seems to be in constant dialogue with itself, expanding upon, revising, and comparing its ideas in the pursuit of what the perfect Special Interest album might be like. The result is their best album so far.