- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 15, 2003

Interpol named its debut album “Turn on the Bright Lights,” but devotees of the New York City band would never heed the request. They’re too busy soaking up the dank-gutter despair of singer-guitarist Paul Banks’ lyrics and the group’s uncanny resurrection of ‘80s gloom punk.

The album title’s appeal for a reprieve from the canyonesque depths of heartbreak may not be serious: The foursome surely enjoys its ability to conjure such ghosts. “I think there’s a light, satirical side,” Mr. Banks told Magnet magazine. “This isn’t some big, self-involved, pretentious, gloomy piece of music.”

It may not be overly self-involved or pretentious, but “Turn on the Bright Lights” heaves with melodrama. Mr. Banks sings as if viewing a slide show of the lovers who’ve crushed his spirit. Guitars manned by Daniel Kessler and Mr. Banks drone in repetition, then transform themselves into wailing sirens, only to slow back to an all-encompassing buzz.

Anguished but never fully disconnected from a world that can’t be trusted, the songs’ narrators sexualize New York City’s subway (“NYC”) and envision a violent end to the person who “puts the weights into my little heart/And she gets in my room and she takes it apart” (“Obstacle 1”). After enough decayed relationships, lust exorcises some of the wounds on “Say Hello to the Angels,” and the barriers to a deeper connection begin to form on “Obstacle 2.” The full cycle of loss and love comes to the 9:30 Club on Saturday.

Interpol’s musical observations would devolve into a mushy mopefest without its propulsive rhythm section and splinter-sharp guitars. Drummer Sam Fogarino and bassist Carlos Dengler form the band’s backbone. Mr. Fogarino mixes urgent beats with splashes of light — that is, hope — from the ride cymbal and high-hats. With throbbing, diving runs, the bass plays partner to the dampened spirits of Mr. Banks’ vocals.

Some critics rebuked the group’s debut as derivative. But others, including the Shortlist Organization LLC, a group founded to recognize the talents of underground bands, praised Interpol’s dedication to its often bleak vision. Interpol was among the finalists this year for Shortlist’s annual music prize — an award won by singer-songwriter Damien Rice.

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Put a band together, record, tour, break up, put a new band together. That’s the way of the musician, but it’s never quite so simple. Bands that achieve national recognition can’t split and then reconstitute themselves without undergoing intense scrutiny from fans and critics. History shadows the artists like autograph-seeking groupies.

The Fire Theft, formed by three of the four original members of Sunny Day Real Estate, has released an eponymous album that places significant distance between the new and old. The former ‘90s indie-music darlings present themselves as devoted worshippers of rock ‘n’ roll grandeur. Jeremy Enigk, William Goldsmith and Nate Mendel (on loan from the Foo Fighters) crave huge waves of noise, glossy and nostalgic, and that’s just what they get with producer Brad Wood’s guidance. The band brings the expansive sound to the Black Cat tomorrow.

Sunny Day Real Estate admirers may not instantly connect with the flashes of mind-bending psychedelia (“Chain”), Led Zeppelin guitar tributes (“Uncle Mountain”) and progressive-rock noodling (the instrumental “Summertime”). But they’ll find more than enough of Mr. Enigk’s ardent lyrics, sung as if floating in a bank of clouds, to connect with the new entity.

Dark secrets and wrenching emotions haunt Mr. Enigk, and he’s not shy about sharing them. “Believe in all the good things you keep inside/There is no freedom in life without freedom of mind/I find myself running from fate whether or not I’m hunted by circumstance,” he sings on the disc’s finale, “Sinatra.”

“There’s a lot of uncertainty, depression, feelings of guilt on the album,” Mr. Enigk says in a press statement to promote the record, released Sept. 23. “‘Sinatra’ is an epiphany, the realization that you can release yourself from your mind.”

The 12 tracks find him on a mission to understand his place, whether in a world wracked by violence or within the confines of a relationship. It’s the latter subject where Mr. Enigk’s elagiac visions stumble. He goes for the obvious rhyme on “Waste Time”: “Though I still have dreams of you and I together again/I can’t afford to lie/I have to say goodbye/We didn’t know the future, but we did what was right.”


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