On their fourth album, You Know I’m Not Going Anywhere, The Districts extend themselves to offer something new and fresh while offering stories that are familiar and unquestionably genuine.
It seems like yesterday when four impressionable teenagers from Pennsylvania emerged on the scene and immediately earned the reputation as indie-rockers who knew how to equally jar listeners’ bodies as much as their minds and souls. The Districts were like a young My Morning Jacket – fearless and boundless energy on stage, thoughtful and intelligent in their songwriting. These words were said back in 2013, four years into the band’s existence. Now entering their second decade together and in their late twenties, Rob Grote, Conor Jacobus, Braden Lawrence, and Pat Cassidy, who joined the band six years ago, haven’t slowed down. If anything, they’ve gotten better at extending themselves musically without compromising their rock roots while also becoming more poetic in their lyrics. The evolution of the band approaches its apex on their stirring fourth LP, You Know I’m Not Going Anywhere.
The album is something new and fresh, yet it is also familiar and unquestionably genuine. Thoughout the eleven songs, the band examine the state of the world and ponder their and our collective purpose. Its bookends frame the band’s varied approach, offering something a little unexpected in the fleeting, reverb-heavy “My Only Ghost” and the gentle, sobering “4th of July”. Whereas the former is a prayer to Grote’s guardian angel that protected him as a child, the latter reflects on the end of one’s innocence. Through a gentile folk-rock arrangement, Grote asks:
“I wonder what you’re saying
While staring at your mouth
What games are you playing with me?”
Between these two emotive numbers, The Districts deliver their most endearing and considerate tracks. The blissful folk-rock tune, “Hey Jo”, is the band at their peak. Through a sweeping arrangement, Grote writes a sincere homage to Jo, who might be the late, great singer-songwriter Daniel Johnston. On the companion tracks, “Changing” and “The Clouds”, the band turn to lo-fi ’90s alt-rock and deliver slow-building, melodic rockers. Both address a tumultuous world in which our protagonist is “hanging from a thread in every direction / Barely hanging on“. Meanwhile, the band test new ground on the majestic “All the Horses All Go Swimming”. Strings, guitars, and a synth sizzle at first before building to a near-rapturous climax. Through the cinema, Grote sings about two people pulled apart by different ambitions. His songwriting is vividly imaginative and reaches new heights not heard previously.
The Districts hit another level with the adrenaline-inducing, infectious nu-disco – or, what the band describes as nihilist disco – “Cheap Regrets”. The track is part Future Islands, another part Operators, and a chunk of Daft Punk. Instead of relying on synthesizers, however, Cassidy’s chiming guitar rings loud and clear, sizzling through the hypnotic beats and buzzing synths. The contrast also perfectly complement Grote’s lyrics as he sets his sights on the Machiavellian tendencies of the rich and famous and those who “lead” the country.
Sincerity and enduring love are the focus on the moving and euphoric “Velcro and Velour”. While the track doesn’t rattle the walls like The Districts’ earlier works, it moves you with its rapturous approach and intimacy. As it builds to a breathtaking, smile-inducing climax, Grote shares a beautiful memory:
“But I believe in heaven,
I have seen it’s true
When you pushed and pulled me in your bed
When your eyes laid gazes at my head
The way your lips assured me.”
In these unusual times, the world needs reminding that there is still hope for humanity and our collective future. To get there, we must first navigate through the noise and the stormy waters, and The Districts chart the course for us to follow. Or at the very least, they’ve made us listen and contemplate our future without forgetting our past.
The Districts are Rob Grote (vocals/guitar), Conor Jacobus (bass), Pat Cassidy (guitar), and Braden Lawrence (drums).
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