There are some bands who stick with you immediately. They feel special, maybe it’s one key ingredient or what they stand for: whatever it is they have IT. They might make you feel like you can scrap with the world, speak to you about a bad ex, get you through dark times or even just dance until your feet bleed.
Well, The Districts are one of those band for me. The first time I heard of them was on this very site and immediately I was hooked; scrambling around on YouTube and various shady download sites until I found their self-titled debut EP. From there I became like an obsessive boyfriend in a new relationship, checking up on what they were doing, begging for them to give me more, telling all of my friends about ‘this amazing new band’, and then constantly pestering until they eventually listened to that EP (usually with me in hovering close by). The Districts were vibrant, refreshing: their world seemed to turn with something exciting and inexplicable.
Rob Grote’s vocals mean that the band will always be recognisably American, but at the same time it all sounds very British – it was like Springsteen playing with The Kinks, or perhaps an American Mumford and Sons. Stand out track ‘Funeral Beds’ took the Mumford / The Lumineers / Noah and the Whale musical template and turned the epic scale up to 200; it escalates throughout before finally exploding in a series of explosive chorus’ which are enough to grab any listener by the bootstraps.
The EP was released on 28th January 2014, over a full year from now. So to say that the wait for their debut album has been a long, fraught one is an understatement. But now, finally, A Flourish And A Spoil is here. The track listing is the first noticeable element, I scanned through expecting to see ‘Lyla’, or ‘Funeral Beds’, or the epically loved up ‘Stay Open’. But they are all missing. You have to commend the band for moving on and believing that their new songs are just as strong, but it is risky: those songs in particular were so good that the chance to show them to a wider audience is perhaps something that should have been taken.
‘4th And Roebling’ opens the album, by now a familiar first single that was given heavy rotation at 6music; it has the same kick as the EP, but is certainly more mature-sounding. Written while on tour the song sees Rob reflecting on life on the road while a laid back, careful musical landscape evolves and wraps around him. ‘Peaches’ is up next and it is unquestionably the highlight of the album; loud, brash and unashamedly steeped in youth. It is the second single and shows the band on top form.
Unfortunately from there the record seems to run out of momentum, out of focus. The remaining tracks lack that essential, fizzing energy that made their previous work so exciting and the songs are weaker for that. ‘Hounds’, for example, or ‘Sing The Song’ are shadows of the songs previously released by the band, both structurally and in terms of performance; Grote’s vocals sound strained and the band sound like they are - and I’m sorry to say this - phoning it in. It’s almost we’re listening to a sloppy sound check. Perhaps a year of constant touring has weighed them down, perhaps the long wait to release the album is to blame, but something is different, missing.
That’s not to say that A Flourish And A Spoil is a bad album, it’s not at all. But it could have been so much better with a better selection of songs. It sounds simple when it’s written down but The Districts have those songs: they’ve just left them off the album.