Paul Wong

Turn on the Bright Lights

Matador Records

With the microscope of rock firmly eyeing New York once again, one has to be especially careful. The Strokes, of course, are the frontrunners of the gaggle, ruling their kingdom with a fistful of hooks. Their peers range from the sexy rock of the Yeah Yeah Yeah’s to the disco punk filth of the Liars.

But in a world of four-on-the-floor garage punk, can’t a band like Interpol slip through the cracks? You see, Interpol sound a bit like the Ramones. That is, like the Ramones covering OK Computer, soaked in a layer of reverb and fronted by Talking Head’s David Byrne doing an Ian Curtis of Joy Division impression. Even if that’s a bit much to digest, Interpol are the one of first of the New York batch to both wear their influences on their sleeve while trying to forge an identity of their own.

The most immediate aspect of the band’s sound is singer Paul Banks’ voxed baritone. Equal parts the conviction of Curtis and the high-art drama of Byrne, it floats over the band’s caustic pop with a natural ease. Banks throws his lyrics with a stately grace, be it a shivering premonition – “you’ll go stabbing yourself in the neck” – or the elegant cry of the album title, “turn on the bright lights” on “NYC”.

The band’s music is also spectacular. The guitars churn on an engine of down-strummed chords, creating a clear, evocative cover for skeletal structure of the drums, and the melodic, throbbing bass.

Everything from the warm guitar ooze of “Untitled,” to the up-tempo Smiths homage “Say Hello to the Angels,” and the slow-punk burn of “Roland” are all impeccably performed. “The New” is a synth-pop melody dressed in chiming guitars before a roaring, discordant guitar shreds the song. The band saves its most impressive moment for a hometown tribute, “NYC.” Its bittersweet melody is delivered in blunt lyrics until a whorl of distortion consumes the second verse, lifting the song into a whirlwind of glacial noise.

The true accomplishment, however, is the band’s varying song structures and slight changes in atmosphere, which keep even the slowest songs from seeming too long. Interpol, like their New York brethren, are nourished from a steady diet of classic punk. Interpol take their cues from art-punk – Mission of Burma and New Order – rather than the guttural howl of The Stooges.

Hopefully Interpol won’t stay underground for long. This is a solid debut, one that births a compelling aesthetic for the band while keeping one foot, and two ears, firmly planted in the past.

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