On LP no. 6, Interpol crack the same facade of NYC cool that birthed them
On August 24, Interpol released their sixth album, Marauder, celebrating by playing the final show ever at Greenpoint venue House of Vans. The HoV, which has been aptly described in eulogies as a DIY/branded experience hybrid without a hint of irony, was so named for the skate shoe brand that sponsored its concerts every summer for the past eight years.
All in attendance on this final night agreed that Interpol, a band whose brooding post-punk noir captured a romanticized millennial’s image of the city had its hip sense of danger never been sanitized by Giuliani’s reign, were the perfect band to sunset the room.
“A venue that we all took for granted,” one photographer wrote under his Instagram caption of a stark, black and white photo from the performance. “Sure the free beer was great, but the best part of this venue was its unique atmosphere and the fact that you could count on seeing so many friends at every single show.”
Another photographer felt less sentimental about the evening: “Not gonna wax nostalgic about the place. Leave that to the wide-eyed kids. Venues come and go. Suffice to say it was fun while it lasted.”
These reactions to House of Vans’ closing highlight two common, albeit polar, reactions that New Yorkers often have to the city’s ever-changing landscape of creative spaces. One one end is the nostalgic longing and hindsight that a closing can bring to the live music community; on the other, a somewhat omniscient, laissez-faire and some would say Zen attitude that such spaces will always come and go, so long as content is king and the real estate market continues to the devalue the work of the creative class under classist rule.
What better band to bid farewell to this room that set the precedent for the branded concert experience before such events were ubiquitously and aggressively folded into the content marketing landscape of Brooklyn, than Interpol. The New York City illuminated on their classic 2002 debut LP, Turn on the Bright Lights, where “the subway is a porno” and “there are 200 couches where you can sleep tonight”, no longer exists.
Just as band’s pop-Joy Division brooding was always a romanticized urban affectation, a conjuring of a specific time and place more concerned with capturing mood than speaking to the platitudes of art eternal, Interpol’s later records and House of Vans might both be remembered as relics of a city more concerned with the aesthetics of artistic endeavors than it was with actually giving those endeavors room to thrive, grow and live.
This is why Interpol’s new album, Marauder, feels like the band’s most honest and vulnerable work since 2004’s Antics. Forgoing the tired, albeit earned ridicule of their 2007 album for Warner Bros., the subsequent garbage fire of their 2010 self-titled record, or the various ill-advised solo projects and dalliances into rap music undertaken by frontman Paul Banks, Marauder captures a band that has taken pulse of its vital signs again, playing to the strengths of its sonic formula while making room for variety, narrative daring and the wider worldview that comes from being a band for over 20 years.
“If you really love nothing/On what future do we build illusions?” asks Banks on Marauder’s opening track. “If you really love nothing/Do we wait in silent glory?”
Banks’ lyrical style has long centered around juxtaposing the surreal, absurd and sometimes goofy sentiments of someone with feelings against the icy, angular cool of the band’s music. But “If You Really Love Nothing” goes a step further in setting an appropriate thematic tone for Marauder because it marries the lyrics and music instantly, as if they are all coming from the same brain instead of composed separately.
Baring this much of himself early on lets Banks sound more honest, even if he’s hiding behind a character. “Marauder is a facet of myself,” he’s said of the album title. “That’s the guy that fucks up friendships and does crazy shit. He taught me a lot, but it’s representative of a persona that’s best left in song.”
Though the band’s signature ominous brooding is still intact, these new songs gaze inward, not outward, and the vulnerability is a good look. As Marauder goes on, Banks’ stated intention to silo the shitty tendencies of himself in this character lend themselves to some loose semblance of narrative.
The album chronicles this character transitioning from rover to marauder, navigating bad hookups and a devastating break-up only to have an upstate tryst in nature before returning to learn that being a transient loner seldom works in New York City these days. We’ve never heard Banks take a hard look at himself quite like this, as he’s always been an omniscient narrator to his own experiences. Because of this, Marauder plays as a therapeutic document, one that doesn’t undo the bands aforementioned decade and a half of earned cool, but humanizes it instead.
After an interlude that ends Marauder’s first act, Interpol deliver one of the most curious songs of their career thus far. “Mountain Girl” suggests Banks’ character has found himself entangled with a woman in nature while on a self-imposed exile from the city. He’s drawn to her earthen ways, but still wants to claim her in his bed. By the first half of the record, his Marauder character has already experienced the kind of heartbreak that hardens a man and the sort of disillusionment that causes him to leave the city and not look back. Now he’s left that city, hot on her trail, not sure if she’s the crazy one for leaving or if he’s the crazy one for following.
“I wanna live at home but this time keeps moving backwards/No one will ever know that my mountain child is strange/And I’m a kind of hero,” he sings. “We used to rule back then.”
By the end of this song, the titular singer character on Marauder seems to have reached some resolve. He makes a commitment to blending in on the next track, “Now You See Me At Work,” with its mentions of a little box designed for us to play in, a plea for oversight into the dreams of others, and a sense that the mountains are becoming a distant memory.
“Surveillance,” meanwhile, again suggests a city where danger has given way to sanitized security. “This shit is made up/Somebody paid for it,” Banks sings. “Out on a limb that echos forward/Adding up.”
Just as the looser, more swinging moments of Marauder belie the angular, Gothic corners that have came to define Interpol’s sonic style, these lyrics suggest that, though band that owes much its mystique to the unadulterated hedonistic mystique of NYC, they’ve managed to make a record that looks honestly at their own legacy as it relates to what’s still left of city they once loved.
Following that honest epiphany, Marauder is then able look honestly at what’s changed. Banks recently said that the later track “Party’s Over” is about popping pills and masturbating to Instagram, while emphasizing that it’s fictional. Nonetheless, the lines bring up a truth that echoes in an age of weaponized paid social outreach: “These enhance my bad intentions/Without containing my sense of wonder.”
This fall, Interpol will headline Madison Square Garden, and Banks will belt such surrealist missives about how much New York City has changed from the barely-beating heart of its largest room. For some of those who caught their album launch at the House of Vans, the question as to which room better amplified these morose anthems will be top of mind. To others, who cherish Interpol’s role as chroniclers and archivists of long-gone urban danger, there will be likely be no considerable difference.