(SXSW 2015 flavoured!) Album Review: The Districts – A Flourish and a Spoil

By on Tuesday, 3rd February 2015 at 1:00 pm

At merely ages 19 and 20, young Pennsylvania band The Districts could be said they’re living the dream. Having formed in 2009 while all their band members were in high school, I doubt any of them would have imagined 5 years later they would be signed to famed Mississippi indie label Fat Possum Records. Now they’re starting 2015 strong with the release of their newest album to the world. It’s with much relief that ‘A Flourish and a Spoil’, which was recorded in Minnesota and produced, engineered and mixed by John Congleton (St. Vincent, Swans), manages to retain all the rough edges of the band that made ‘The Districts’ EP such an untamed joy in early 2014.

The album starts with a fine buildup in the form of earlier revealed track and lead single ‘4th and Roebling’, named for the Brooklyn intersection where the band happened to park their van the first time they ever played in the city. The song itself is a mournful yearning for a lover who has changed, or perhaps even a life that no longer exists. Yet despite its sadder, more pensive moments as ably emote emoted by frontman Rob Grote, it’s an engaging listen and a clear standout, with its driving rhythm, masterful guitar and its stompathon style conclusion. Though ‘lo-fi slacker’ could be used to some extent to describe the Districts’ chosen style of instrumentation, their ability to put both melancholy and rage on show in the same song – and convincingly – sets them apart from many of their singer/songwriter and band contemporaries. Grote charms his way through rhythmically upbeat number ‘Peaches’, which has already caught the eyes and ears of American late night tv presenter Jimmy Fallon, no doubt for its indie rock catchiness. Later on in the line-up, ‘Bold’ shows off the band’s psychedelic leanings, as the drum beats vibrate and the guitars wail, their lines bending with effects.

A few songs on this album tell of just how hard growing up can be. The atmospheric drums and guitars on standout ‘Chlorine’ boom a nostalgic feeling throughout as Grote’s voice oozes in the chorus, “it’s such a shame / nobody’s feeling it now / it’s not that way anymore”; in the background, a tambourine shakes almost solemnly. Shortest track ‘Suburban Smell’ sees Grote coming to terms with leaving behind their suburban childhood in the sleepy town of Lititz, Pennsylvania they used to call home. Although Grote sings, “he’s sick of that suburban smell” and “16 houses on every street”, the song is performed in such an tender acoustic style, as if an acknowledgement that we all come from a beginning that was humbler than what we become and even if our childhood moments weren’t always the best, we will always have those memories. Considering their relative youth compared to other bands in the business, such observations for a time period that was not so far in the past seem incredibly astute and are refreshing.

Listeners who hold tight to the end of the album are rewarded with two great tracks. At nearly 9 minutes, ‘Young Blood’ is like a multi-act play, with a fun part one, a jammy instrumental bridge, and an even more fun, raucous conclusion with excellent guitar licks. Lo-fi ‘6 AM’, which closes out ‘A Flourish…’, includes the refrain of “all we are is all we are / and still I will become / all I am and what I thought I can’t become.” As the words are repeated and repeated, seeming more desperate as the song goes on, there is a sad poignancy in the resignation of Grote’s loneliness, of life being ‘it is what it is’. For kids of all ages who feel lost and abandoned, either by boy/girlfriends and/or society, this song will resonate with them. There is an rawness and honesty with ‘6 AM’ and the Districts. They have heart. Nothing is contrived here. If I were a betting woman, I’d say based on the strength of this album, The Districts are on the verge of becoming massive.


‘A Flourish and a Spoil’, the second album from The Districts, will be out on the 9th of February on Fat Possum Records. After their scheduled appearance at this year’s SXSW, the band will be touring the UK and Ireland in April and May.

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