Album Review: Django Django – Marble Skies

Django Django are a good representative of this decade in indie rock. Traces of the traditional ‘rock’ aspect in their music are increasingly buried under their quest to find alternative, fresher ways to express themselves. On their third album, guitars rarely take the lead, opting instead for the freedom afforded by electronics and synthesised sounds. Whilst liberating, it also tempts them into overloading their tracks with detail, at times to the point of complete saturation.

Marble Skies artwork

‘Surface to Air’ sees them venturing furthest from their roots. There is space in the mix between tropical house-inspired beats and multi-tracked vocals – it could be geared up for chart domination. It calls to mind that time that Luke Haines from The Auteurs made a calculated bid for pop stardom by analysing the ingredients of the chart busters of the day and came up with the masterpiece that is ‘The Facts of Life’. But pop times have changed and accordingly, the Djangos resist going all in on a braindead, club-singalong chorus, for which they should be commended. This is a genuinely interesting diversion for the band, and a fruitful one too.

Glittering keys are the order of the day on the opener and title track, the sound of skipping along a perfectly arranged row of water lilies but with the tape playing at double speed. The overall impression is that everything has been passed through a processor – vocals, drums, everything. It gives the song a sense of designed chaos, as if a computer has absorbed hundreds of millions of songs and calculated the perfect algorithm for a danceable indie pop song for 2018. Yes, it’s catchy and energetic, but is it definitely real?

Lead single ‘Tic Tac Toe’ is the track that spills over the most: maxed out vocals, a breakneck pace that leaves no room for variation and little by way of surprise. More successful is ‘Champagne’, where the guitars are back but not in such a way as to thwack you around the head. This is a rhythmic, percussive track, with every element pulling in the same direction, more in the tradition of Talking Heads or Gang of Four. It is the classic Django Django sound and when you look back at their career highlights, these are the tracks that stand out. On ‘In Your Beat’, over spurts and spits of electronic noise, the chorus is guided in with a sliding, descending synth boom, a downbeat counterpoint to the otherwise delirious apex of the song. This singular sad-faced stroke of a synth pad has proven to be the stickiest, most addictive sound of the first month of 2018. Caution: you may succumb to a compulsive desire to revisit this track just to get your fix of this goddamn one-second-long soundbite.

On ‘Sundials’, vocalist Vincent Neff sings, “Turning the glass again/We no longer live without it,” in the very week that the doomsday clock moved forward to two minutes from midnight. “Circling around again/Never followed by a reason.” Yes, the sense of global annihilation is in the air, but even so, Django Django can’t stay still. It’s the end of the world as they know it, and even if they don’t feel fine, they’re determined to carry on regardless.

There’s no doubt that Django Django compress a lot of ideas into the 40 minutes of music on Marble Skies. Amongst their art pop contemporaries, it lacks the experimental boldness of alt-J’s Relaxer or the wall-to-wall bangers of Everything Everything’s A Fever Dream. Occasionally you want them to let the bare-bones songwriting speak for itself a little more, but they just can’t help themselves – they’re natural maximalists. And more often than not on Marble Skies, the chaos is reigned in successfully. They have found a satisfying marriage of the songcraft of their debut album and the sonic maturity of follow-up Born Under Saturn to make their most compelling album to date.