Even going by the standard of Philadelphia's overcrowded field of buzzed-about bands, The Districts have had a pretty great couple of years. Though their scrappy and full-throated sophomore album A Flourish and a Spoil deservedly landed on a handful of "Best of 2015" lists, it's the amped-up energy of their live show that really set them apart, culminating in a series of mostly-sold out headlining tours and a one-off opening slot for the Rolling Stones.
"After touring for this last album, we finally felt like a real band, like, 'we're really doing this,'" explained 22-year-old frontman Robby Grote over the phone. Though things looked bright for the young four piece, when they came home after the exhaustive schedule they knew they needed a change. "It was a really hot summer and a lot of things were changing for us, like our relationships, and it felt our lives were in flux," said Grote. He added, "We'd been on the road for that album for so long that when we stopped and started writing, we knew we wanted the new songs to sound a little different."
Grote spoke to me from the van as he and his bandmates were en route to Buffalo, New York for the second date of the Districts' April tour. His voice sounded a little raw from the night before's show but he was clearly happy to be on the road debuting songs off their upcoming album, Popular Manipulations. It drops August 11 via Fat Possum and it's not so much portrait of a band going through a slight transition but of one that's really fucking going for it. "I think we all agreed on having the drive to make something a lot better than we had before," offered Grote.
Just take "Ordinary Day," the lead single the band put out in February. Both the weirdest and most ambitious song they've ever written, it boasts Grote's newfound self-lacerating sarcasm and his falsetto, something he rarely used on the band's earlier albums. He kicks it off in a sing-song coo, "An ordinary sunset/An ordinary day/An ordinary sunset/I'll let you down again." While it's a jarring opening, longtime fans will recognize the band's trademark: the song gradually grows into a boil of blistering intensity. But here, thanks to a thoughtful arrangement and gut-punching chorus, the payoff is especially earned.
The stakes feel even higher over rest of the album's 11 tracks with Grote's once-raspy and slightly-twangy howl transformed to a less throaty but more dynamic and powerful bellow. At their most feverish, the songs sound like Wolf Parade getting into a bar fight with Arcade Fire. While a far-cry from the no-frills rock of their earlier offerings with added synths and drastically bigger, almost arena-ready, choruses, the album's chock-full of emotional anthems. It's the closest they've gotten to capturing the catharsis of their shows.
Though Popular Manipulations was partly recorded with A Flourish and a Spoil producer John Congleton (St. Vincent, The Mountain Goats) last May, all but four of the songs were self-recorded by the band with their friend Keith Abrams of the Philly band Pine Barons. Grote said of the process, "Both sessions were great. We just have fun working with John. There's a dialogue between us when we are working with him where he has suggestions or we'll just talk stuff out," remembered Grote before adding, "but it was definitely refreshing recording just a neighborhood away from where we live and doing it all ourselves with Keith. We viewed it as more of a challenge."
To announce the forthcoming LP, we're premiering their brand new video for "Ordinary Day." Directed by Out Of Town Films, the brooding Philadelphia-shot visual is pretty affecting, as Grote explained it, "deals with ideas of loneliness, alienation and going through the motions in life." At the same time, it's also weird as hell because it has a whole lot of people wearing creepy white masks who are drinking and spilling milk. Don't take our word for it, see for yourself by watching it below. Popular Manipulations is out on August 11 via Fat Possum and you can pre-order it here.
*Catch The Districts on tour: **
April 25 - Lexington, KY @ Cosmic Charlies
April 26 - Cincinnati, OH @ Woodward Theater
April 28 - Lancaster, PA @ Chameleon Club
May 04 - Towson, MD @ WTMD First Monday
May 19 - Brighton, UK @ The Great Escape
May 20 - Birmingham, UK @ The Institute
May 22 - Paris, FR @ La Maroquinerie
May 23 - London, UK @ The Dome
May 25 - Berlin, DE @ Badehaus Szimpla
May 26 - Amsterdam, NL @ London Calling @ Paradiso
June 21 - Charlotte, NC @ Visualite
June 22 - Charleston, SC @ Royal American
June 23 - Orlando, FL @ The Social
June 24 - Athens, GA @ Georgia Theatre
June 26 - Houston, TX @ Raven Tower
June 27 - Austin, TX @ Sidewinder
June 29 - Santa Fe, NM @ Meow Wolf
June 30 - Tucson, AZ @ Club Congress
July 01 - Los Angeles, CA @ Troubadour
July 03 - San Francisco, CA @ The Independent
July 06 - Portland, OR @ Doug Fir
July 07 - Seattle, WA @ Tractor Tavern
July 08 - Vancouver, BC @ Cobalt
July 10 - Salt Lake City, UT @ Kilby Court
July 11 - Denver, CO @ Globe Music Hall
July 13 - Kansas City, MO @ Record Bar
Aug 04 - Chicago, IL @ Lollapalooza
Aug 04-06 - Montreal, QC @ Osheaga
Aug 07 - Cambridge, MA @ The Sinclair
Aug 10 - Columbus, OH @ Express Live \
Aug 11 - Philadelphia, PA @ Union Transfer
Aug 12 - North Adams, MA @ Mass MoCA *
Aug 16 - New York, NY @ Bowery Ballroom
Aug 18 - Washington, DC @ 9:30 Club
Aug 25 - Reading , UK @ Reading Festival
Aug 26 - Leeds, UK @ Leeds Festival
Aug 27 - Hull, UK @ Fruit
Aug 29 - Newcastle, UK @ Cluny
Aug 30 - Edinburgh, UK @ Caves
Aug 31 - Glasgow, UK @ King Tuts
Sept 2 - Bristol, UK @ The Downs
Sept 3 - Cambridge, UK @ Portland Arms
Sept 5 - Nottingham, UK @ Bodega
Sept 6 - Manchester, UK @ Gorilla
Sept 7 - Cardiff, UK @ Clwb Ifor Bach
Sept 11 - Brighton, UK @ Haunt
Sept 14 - Monthey, CH @ Pont Rouge
Sept 15 - Milan, IT @ Serraglio
Sept 17 - Darmstadt, DE @ Golden Leaves Festival
Sept 18 - Zurich, CH @ Werk 21
Sept 19 - Munich, DE @ Strom
Sept 20 - Vienna, AT @ Flex
* with My Morning Jacket
Josh Terry is a writer based in Chicago. Follow him on Twitter.