Music Reviews
You Know I'm Not Going Anywhere

The Districts You Know I'm Not Going Anywhere

(Fat Possum) Rating - 6/10

Over the course of four albums, Rob Grote-led The Districts have tweaked their sound as much as any band over the same span. There may still be an acoustic guitar strum here and there left over from their folky debut, but by the time of 2017’s Popular Manipulations, the band had given themselves over to spindly electric melodies that Grote’s desperately edged vocals helped to somehow keep from falling apart. Skating on the edge of collapse gave songs like If Before I Wake and Airplane their energy and stood up The Districts as a band that might be on the brink of something if they could hold things together. Grote admits that this latest album, You Know I’m Not Going Anywhere, almost never came.

As each of their albums has something of its own character, Anywhere adds on layers of synths and puts über producer Dave Fridmann (The Flaming Lips, Spoon) on the mixing board. The new formula delivers immediate results on the opening tracks, but things quickly deflate on an album marred by a large step towards giving up anything resembling a unique sound. On the positive side, opener My Only Ghost is one of Grote’s finest moments to date. An acoustic strum, echoey handclaps, and shreds of tape loops give the song heaps of atmosphere as Grote tenuously rolls out “You’re the only one, who comes to check my pulse.” With threats of coming to a full stop, the song crawls to the finish on the promise of another differentiated release.

Hey Jo delivers beautifully on the opener’s promise with its mix of fragile nostalgia and clangorous choruses. But things devolve from here until a modest recovery is made at album’s end. Cheap Regrets maintains something of the band’s character but the stuttering dance beats and references to L.A.’s “Jacuzzis and Uzis” bring an unwelcome change in cadence. From there, things get markedly worse for a while. Single Velour and Velcro could have been the album’s generic low point if weren’t for the treacly slog of Dancer that appears later on (“I get lost in every twirl"). The similarly soft-accented Descend fares a bit better, but points out where, as a band, The Districts are teetering somewhere between the point of becoming something of their own design or alternative rock also-rans.

After Dancer’s low point, the album does make something of a recovery. The graceful build of And The Horses Go Swimming brings some semblance of self respect back to the proceedings. While the closer 4th of July, with its interlaced whistled warble, is right up there with the band’s best and hearkens back to the strong open. Driving through Santa Fe with a busted air conditioner is infinitely more evocative than references to machine guns and ballerinas that strip the center of the album of anything approaching the personal.

What makes You Know I’m Not Going Anywhere frustrating is the knowledge that Grote has all the right ingredients (including Fridmann in this case), but somehow isn’t consistently stringing things together. The palpable frailty of Grote’s vocal creates the atmospherics that need to be plied to their fullest—as history has shown from Neil Young, Wayne Coyne, Mark Linkous, and Anders Parker (whose finest moments with long lost Varnaline, Grote most recalls). While Popular Manipulations provided an air of excitement about what might come next, You Know I’m Not Going Anywhere fails to deliver in its scrambled approach.