posted: July 15, 2015
Scottish quartet Django Django constantly obscures its mission statement. Is this a surf-rock act for our modern, dance-driven times? Or maybe a group of electronic gear heads with a love of guitars? But then how to explain the sudden shifts into frantic, tribal rhythms? And what about those harmonies? Django Django is a perpetually-in-motion beat-driven target, a melting pot of studio wizardry, Dick Dale-influenced riffing, and we’re-all-in-this together vocals.
On its second release, the team of drummer Dave Maclean, bassist Jim Dixon, guitarist Vinnie Neff, and keyboardist Tommy Grace has an album in Born Under Saturn with seemingly more ideas than its 13 songs and 50-minute-plus running time can handle. A creaky, rattlesnake groove in a tune that treats a breakup like a contractual negotiation? Sure, why not. A 1950s spy-movie guitar overlaid with what sounds to be a car screeching to a halt? Bring it on. A Spaghetti Western landscape with a beat potentially fashioned out of a glass jar? Sounds great.
Like LCD Soundsystem before, with Django Django, anything goes. After a promising self-titled 2012 debut, one that earned Django Django a bevy of raves from across the pond and slots on numerous year-end lists, Born Under Saturn comes across as a high-energy affair that cuts across nearly any genre—as long as its danceable. It’s a multi-cultural rave with guitars, and while some of the freshness wears off over the course of the hour, the record maintains a trippy, spacey journey in which the phasers are set to “surprise.”
Nearly each one of the arrangements feels circular, and takes a fluid approach to songcraft in which there’s no bad time to add a new layer. “Giant” starts with a piano that chugs like a locomotive, with keys getting brighter as the song builds. There’s also a crash of cymbals, a dash of fuzz, a guitar looking for waves to ride, and synths that crest like an orchestra in the song’s final act. “Found You” digs deeper via a coral reef of prickly beats, damning handclaps, and distant harmonies. Vocals always feel distant, as arresting phrases only occasionally come into view. “I’ve seen your face in better days,” sings the collective, one verse wrapping around the other as an out-of-nowhere electronic bagpipe-like sound brings the tune to a close.
Meanwhile, “First Light” takes the Autobahn to the dance floor, “Reflections” emerges as what would happen if you put funhouse mirrors in Tron, and “Shot Down” doubles as a five-minute static charge. Things slow down as the album winds down. The more meditative tracks are packed into the album’s final half. When there’s not a festival of sounds surrounding the vocals, multi-tracked voices take a more prominent seat and bring the songs down to earth.
Nonetheless, Django Django approaches every arrangement with an inventor’s zeal. “Don’t think that you know me, I’ll always be a stranger,” the group sing-chants in “4000 Years,” as fine a thesis for this upbeat mix as any.–Todd Martens