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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 beehiveWebsite
Cave Clove is a four-piece rock band based in Oakland, CA. Their latest self-titled album is slated for release on November 4, 2016 and marks the solidification of the band’s five-year journey to find the true heart and soul of their sound.
In 2011, singer / guitarist, Katie Colver began collaborating with drummer Kendra Kilkuskie. The pair began performing songs from Colver’s self-released folk album, Cabin Habits, and from there Cave Clove was born. As the band made the rounds in the local Americana scene, their sound evolved to incorporate elements of doo wop and classic rock into their already well-established folk roots. They took their new material to the studio and made the Bases for Pyramids EP (2013), produced and recorded by Oakland legend Greg Ashley of The Gris Gris. Shortly after, Cave Clove released two single / B-side combos: 2013’s “Still Just As Free,” an upbeat pop single recorded at New, Improved Recording with Carlos Arrendondo behind the board; and “Kyrie” (2014) recorded by Robert Shelton at Tiny Telephone and released on 7” vinyl by Royal Oakie Records. While all of their previous efforts were well received by press and fans alike, Colver and Kilkuskie were still pushing to solidify the Cave Clove sound. In 2015, the pair got their wish when they met guitarist Brent Curriden (Travis Hayes / Lords of Sealand) and bassist Alisa Saario. Curriden brings serious chops and a rock sensibility to the table, while Saario’s masterful sense of rhythm melds seamlessly with Kilkuskie’s drums.
In January of 2016, the quartet began pre-production for Cave Clove in their Oakland rehearsal studio along with co-producer Courtney Fairchild. Over the next two months they honed the band’s sound and built the bedrock of what would become Cave Clove. In March, they began recording at Tiny Telephone Studios with Fairchild and co-producer Beau Sorenson (Death Cab for Cutie / Bob Mould / Thao & the Get Down Stay Down), who also engineered and mixed the album.
The result of their efforts is an eleven-song collection that debuts a reimagined Cave Clove sound. From the first note to the last, Colver’s lyrics and distinctive vocals guide the listener on a journey through tracks that highlight the band’s multifaceted influences. At its center, Cave Clove is a rock album with the band drawing on the many sub-genres and eras the define rock music; the album gains depth and dimension as undertones of classic Motown, 90s beach music, R&B, psychedelia, the Blues and classic pop come in and out of focus along the way.
Lead single, “Bid For Power,” is a 70’s R&B throwback with a twist. As the track begins it sounds like it would be at home on a Smoky Robinson or Al Green record. Saario and Kilkuskie lay the groundwork with a slinky infectious bass line and classic R&B drums while Colver and Curriden’s guitars play off each other through the verse. By the time the listener settles in, the hook comes around and turns the song on it’s head; the whole track opens up with a build into a simultaneous Wurlitzer and guitar hook and Colver’s simple refrain of “fear is never justified” punctuated with girl group gang vocals. The band moves smoothly between the familiar and unexpected and dances between genres; a signature throughout the album.
Follow up single, “Sky,” has a bright beat and jangly acoustic meets shoegaze electric guitars that all add up to a track that is at once reminiscent of The Sundays and The Boo Radleys. Standout, “When We Were” teases that it’s a quiet ballad through the end of the first verse when the track explodes into a huge guitar driven refrain. “Your Freedom” and “Holy Mountain” both play with classic elements of psychedelia while “Becoming” and “Done Wrong” do the same, but with the Blues. The band even revisits their own history with a new recording of “Kyrie” that features a tight arrangement that highlights Curriden and Saario’s takes on guitar and bass. Throughout the recording, Colver’s rich voice ties the album together with confessional, mid-range notes and high, clear, impassioned questions about being present: love and loss, the uncertain mornings that follow wild nights, personal ambition, and the journey of the self. In the balance, the music is a dance of highs and lows, literally and figuratively, both comfortingly familiar and completely new.
With the release of Cave Clove the band begins another chapter in their journey. One that will inevitably see them reaching an even broader audience as they venture beyond the Bay Area for a string of U.S. tour dates in the late fall and early winter of 2016. With a band that has been constantly evolving from the start, one thing is certain, Cave Clove marks the beginning of a new era of musical exploration and will serve as the jumping off point for many great things to come.
Vocals & Guitar / Katie Clover
Drums & Vocals / Melissa Kilkuskie
Guitar / Brent Curriden
Bass / Alisa Saario