Interpol – El Pintor

Despite a couple of new tricks, El Pintor finds Interpol doing what they do best, writes DOUG WALLEN.

Whether you approach Interpol’s fifth album in search of some nostalgia from the band who gave us Turn On the Bright Lights a dozen years ago, or simply as the latest salvo in a steady career, the immediate revelation gleaned from El Pintor is just how propulsive is. It becomes quickly apparent that the opening lead single ‘All the Rage Back Home’ was more barometer than fluke: despite its mellow first 50 seconds, it’s an anxious anthem announcing a record full of them.

There have been bumps along the way in the aforementioned steadiness, like longtime bassist Carlos D leaving the band in 2010 and a single album for Capitol Records – 2007’s Our Love to Admire – that saw Interpol then head back to their home base of Matador and regroup for a self-titled 2010 LP. But even now that they’re down to a trio in the studio, with singer/guitarist Paul Banks taking over bass duties, the New York band still have an instantly recognisable sound and remain a robust live draw (where they’re a five-piece, with auxiliary members playing bass and keyboards). They set their template a long time ago, and haven’t so much altered it over the years as slowly and intently refined it.

And so we have an Interpol album that sounds very much like an Interpol album, yet the disciplined post-punk of the early days has given way to a broader, dreamier sound that’s more like hooky, mood-swinging alt-rock. In fact, that first minute of the album hews close to the stripped-back start of a National record. Again self-producing, the band put a clear focus on the light-and-dark interplay between Daniel Kessler’s bright, chatty lead guitar and Banks’ pinched, brooding vocals. Those elements wrestle like good-natured old friends while drummer Sam Fogarino keeps up a pacey pulse amid intermittent keyboard warmth.

“And so we have an Interpol album that sounds very much like an Interpol album.”

There are a few new tricks, like the dancey undercurrent that defines ‘Same Town New Story’, a song that seems like a ballad vocally but like a hyperactive child in its rhythm section. The appropriately cruisey ‘My Blue Supreme’ tries out dub shadings for appealing effect, and ‘Ancient Ways’ sees the normally buttoned-up Banks cut loose just a smidge with the line “Fuck the ancient ways.”

But again, the real takeaway is how intently the album charges forward, from ‘All the Rage Back Home’ through the needling insistence of Kessler’s barbs on ‘My Desire’, the focused dynamism of ‘Anywhere’ and the looping guitar ribbon of ‘Same Town New Story’. Following the more subdued ‘My Blue Supreme’, ‘Everything is Wrong’ reaches for overdriven dreaminess and bounds towards the horizon. ‘Breaker 1’ is all throbbing angst, ‘Ancient Ways’ kicks up a noisy cloud of dust and ‘Tidal Waves’ started off slow but rides a taut bass line into a more immersive, keyboard-streaked climax that’s befitting of the song’s title.

Only the dirge-y closer ‘Twice As Hard’ really unravels that momentum, letting the band wind down after their sustained run of anthem-making. Of course, Interpol’s idea of anthem-making will always be more downbeat and controlled than that of some bands, but that drive is what defines El Pintor. It’s not the best Interpol album or the most memorable, and nor do Interpol try to recreate the exact feeling of those early Bright Lights days. It’s not mind-blowing or especially surprising, but it does consolidate the band’s signature strengths – all gloomy greys and thickly shadowed backdrops – into a unified, catchy package.

It’s a reminder that Interpol are still doing what they’ve always done, and doing it well, whether you’ve remained a fan or left that camp a long time ago. What it doesn’t do, despite Banks adding the bass to his arsenal, is really shake things up. El Pintor is muscular and loping, but it remains more refinement than rebirth.