The Districts – Tickets – Doug Fir Lounge – Portland, OR – July 6th, 2017

The Districts

Fat Possum Pennsylvania Indie Rockers

The Districts

The Spirit Of The Beehive

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Doors: 8:00 pm / Show: 9:00 pm

$15.00 - $17.00

This event is 21 and over

The Districts
The Districts
It's not uncommon for musicians to grow and evolve between releases -- but even by those standards, the Districts' Popular Manipulations is stunning. The Pennsylvania-borne band's third full-length represents an exponential leap in sound and cohesion, an impressive and impassioned burn with a wide scope that threatens to swallow everything else surrounding it. Perhaps it's a cliché to say so, but while listening, you might find yourself wondering why people don't make indie rock like this anymore.

The total electric charge of Popular Manipulations is just the latest evolution for the impressively young quartet, whose founding members -- vocalist/guitarist Rob Grote, bassist Connor Jacobus, and drummer Braden Lawrence -- have known each other since attending grade school together in the Pennsylvania town of Lititz. After deciding to form a band in high school, the Districts gigged hard in the tri-state area, releasing a slew of promising material (including the rootsy 2012 debut Telephone) before catching the eye of venerable indie Fat Possum. 2015's A Flourish and a Spoil found the band refining their embryonic sound with veteran producer John Congleton (St. Vincent, Kurt Vile) -- and looking back on that release, there are glimmers of Popular Manipulations in chrysalis form to be found on it, hints of the fence-swinging anthemic sound they'd soon make wholly their own.

After touring behind A Flourish and a Spoil, Grote began "playing with different ideas" in his own songwriting by making demos at a prolific pace. "We knew that we wanted to change some things musically, so we were trying to come up with as many songs as possible to narrow the direction we wanted to take the material," he states. In total, they ended up with 50 song ideas, and so they were off to LA in May of 2016 with new guitarist Pat Cassidy in tow to log more recording time with Congleton, with four of Popular Manipulations' songs coming out of the sessions.

"We have a lot of overlapping tastes and preferences for how things are made," Grote gushes about working with the notably reliable studio wizard -- but acceding all credit to Congleton (who also handled the record's mixdown) would be shortchanging the Districts themselves, who went on to self-produce the remainder of the record in Philadelphia with engineer Keith Abrams. "Something we took from working with Congleton was ideas on arranging songs," Grote explains, and they certainly learned a lot: Popular Manipulations is a raucous and impressively thick-sounding album, overflowing with toothy melodies that pack a serious punch.

The distinctly intense sound of Popular Manipulations -- charging guitars, thunderous drumming, and Grote's searing vocals -- was brought on by a few cited influences, from shoegaze's aggressive swirl to the Velvet Underground's impeccable drone-rock sound. There's a distinctly Canadian flavor to this brand of indie rock, too; Spencer Krug's anthemic, lushly inscrutable work in Wolf Parade and his defunct Sunset Rubdown side project comes to mind, as does 2000s Toronto barnburners the Diableros' overlooked 2006 gem You Can't Break the Strings in Our Olympic Hearts.

But don't mistake easy comparisons for a lack of originality: on Popular Manipulations, the District are in a lane entirely their own, exploring lyrical themes of isolation and abandonment in a way that ups the music's already highly charged emotional quotient. "Capable" finds Grote turning his focus to the ruinous aftermath of divorce, and "Before I Wake" is, in his words, "About coming to terms with being isolated or alone -- even though we have a whole group of voices singing the whole time." Grote explains that even the title of the record touches on these universal concerns: "It hints at how people use each other, for good or bad, and the personal ways you manipulate yourself and other people in day-to-day interactions."

For such weighty thematic material, though, Popular Manipulations is purely life-affirming rock music, bursting with energy that cuts through the darkness of the world that surrounds us. "We're a much better distillation of who we wish to be as a band," Grote reflects on the journey that has led the Districts to this point. "We've figured out how to distill the things we've been trying to accomplish as a band, musically and lyrically. We've always viewed making music as something we're trying to do better the whole time." Mission accomplished.
The Spirit Of The Beehive
The Spirit Of The Beehive
The Spirit of the Beehive have a fascination with contrast. The cover of their 2015 EP YOU ARE ARRIVED (but you’ve been cheated) juxtaposes the rare beauty of an urban sewer canal during sunset, with a washed-up body of a young woman sprawled peacefully beside some floating trash. The album that followed, 2017’s pleasure suck, explored the sick irony of pain brought on from overindulging in bliss. Its first track featured the line, “pleasure sucks the life out of everyone,” and the record’s erratic nature—spontaneous shifts from flowery psych-pop into dissonant passages of grimy distortion—evoked the discordant effect frequent substance use has on one’s psyche.
Hypnic Jerks, the Philly quintet’s third full-length and second for Tiny Engines, sounds like, as frontman Zack Schwartz puts it, “the state between wakefulness and sleep.” It’s named after the involuntary muscle spasms that can happen right as someone begins dozing off, a perfect feeling to compare the album’s drowsy yet restless character to. Unlike the spiraling momentum of pleasure suck, The Spirit of the Beehive took a more grounded approach with Hypnic Jerks, though the ground they’re standing on is equally otherworldly. Dreamy is a fitting adjective, but the songs never fully slip into the peaceful yet backgrounded character of dream-pop.
Rather than an ongoing fantasy, the record has the quality of an indescribable dream fading from memory as you slowly begin to regain consciousness. Its warped guitar tones, transcendental synths, and smattering of eerie audio samples—most come from bassist Rivka Ravede’s old family recordings, which Schwartz sifted through and edited together—conjure this purgatorial space between reverie and reality. An arena where their songs unexpectedly contort themselves and take on different textures, morphing in and out of one another. These tracks were initially designed to comprise a “short mixtape,” which explains the record’s nebulous structure. If you’re not paying close attention to the tracklist, they could easily be mistaken for one, long song.
The first two, “nail I couldn’t bite” and “mantra is repeated,” are mid-paced, ethereal bops that sound like if Donovan was informed by The Microphones. They verge on soothing, but they’re quickly followed by the album’s loudest cuts; the tubular “fell asleep with a vision” and “can I receive the contact?”— the shouted ending of the latter being the point where you realize Hypnic Jerks is, deceivingly, not an album one can easily knock out to. “d.o.u.b.l.e.u.r.o.n.g.” begins with a minute-and-a-half- long sample of what once was a cute recording of a grandfather narrating a visit with his grandkids. Here, the band coated it with haunting reverb, scraped it with vocal processors, and uses it to transition into what’s both the prettiest and grimmest pop song the Beatles never wrote. “I’m saying things all wrong / I’m doing things all wrong / now everything is wrong,” Schwartz sings with a quivering intonation, as if he’s physically holding back tears.
However, it’s the celestial harmonies, balmy keys and creeping false climax of album closer “it’s gonna find you” that secures The Spirit of the Beehive a seat at this decade’s table of musical visionaries. The track ends with a similarly whirring sample to the one the record began with, finally rocking you off to sleep after ten songs, but leaving you with the undying curiosity to play back what you think you just heard. Jerking your mind awake yet again. (bio by Eli Enis)