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Mr. Tophat - Dusk to Dawn Music Album Reviews

The Swedish producer and frequent Robyn collaborator offers an ambitious three-album suite of understated, occasionally disquieting techno nocturnes.
Hardcore Robyn fans already know the work of Swedish producer Rudolf Nordström, aka Mr. Tophat. He co-produced “Baby Forgive Me” and “Beach2k20,” two of the gorgeous, gently filtered house-pop tracks from last year’s Honey; his own 2017 release Trust Me, a three-song, 35-minute EP of throbbing, desaturated grooves, featured Robyn throughout. His latest solo release, Dusk to Dawn, is an ambitious three-album suite of understated, occasionally disquieting techno nocturnes. More melodic than the distortion-warped A Memoir From the Youth, two and a half hours of mostly chill, mid-tempo house conceal interesting moments within slack expanses. At its best, it’s a triple-album endurance listen that rewards partial concentration; at its slowest, it’s an illustration that Tophat’s signature long-format tracks don’t scale.

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Interpol - Marauder Music Album Reviews

On their sixth record, the New York band is stuck in a Medium Mood and a new producer doesn’t help energize their increasingly frozen-in-time sound.

More than any of their frenemies in the 2000s indie-rock tell-all Meet Me in the Bathroom, Interpol understood the power of a unified front. They’ve survived parting ways with the only guy in the band who clearly wanted to be a celebrity, a widely mocked dalliance with a major label, a rap mixtape by frontman Paul Banks called Everyone on My Dick Like They Supposed to Be that actually happened, and another Banks rap album on Warner Bros. that actually happened after that, mostly proving the adage that 80 percent of success is simply showing up. Their return to Matador resulted in two essentially self-titled albums that were variously lauded as “returns to form”—an objective truth, since Interpol outlasted all of their contemporaries and soundalikes to be the only game left in town. Survival has been a pretty good look for them, and with Marauder, they act on their newfound surplus of goodwill by conducting something other than business as usual.

The album has them enlisting a plus-value producer for the first time since Antics in MGMT and Flaming Lips guru Dave Fridmann, and then there’s the “concept” behind it. According to Banks, Marauder is voiced from the perspective of a titular character who represents, “the portion of your personality that isn’t really concerned with accountability and just kind of does.” The irony is that most people have always chosen to see Interpol as brooding hedonists in the first place.

But Marauder is definitely Interpol’s most topical project, and maybe their only one—pervasive societal cynicism (“If You Really Love Nothing”), social media desperation (“Party’s Over”), the ghost of Prince (“NYSMAW”), and third-eye-in-the-sky theorizing (“Surveillance”), is all new territory for the group. (The illicit tryst of “Stay in Touch” is not.) Then again, Banks and the “Marauder” don’t seem so different. “The Rover” isn’t a Led Zeppelin cover, but “I can keep you in artwork, the fluid kind” is phrased and sung with Banks’ own rock’n’roll virility. It’s genius or ridiculous nonsense, or most likely, the kind of ridiculous genius nonsense that Banks writes because it sounds both profound and absurd at the same time—the true essence of an Interpol song.

For too long, people have attempted to mock Banks’ lyrics simply by quoting them, but we should know better by now. He was taken far more seriously than he should have at the start, and he’s actually way funnier and more self-aware than he’s ever given credit for. “Ella, Teletext or you can call me/Galavanting heart,” “Like Prince sang in Tennessee/I wanna drive with you down there to Alphabet Street,” these are the words of someone leaning into their reputation as a wine-soaked Manhattan dandy rather than combating it. Or, the way he cheekily acknowledges the “back to basics” narrative of Marauder: “Rock’n’roll, bitch/I’m into it/Let me show you my stuff.”

The most distinct parts of Marauder likewise result from Interpol doing Interpol things as loosely as possible—Daniel Kessler has become one of the most distinctive guitarists of the 21st century by simply playing straight eighth-note leads, and drummer Sam Fogarino is the broad-shouldered classic rocker. These two things are still true, but when they slacken just the slightest bit, Interpol can actually sound the slightest bit bluesy (“The Rover”) or funky (“It Probably Matters”). Then again, the near absence of any notable bass save for an occasional synth blob shows that they haven’t even tried to replace Carlos D (recall that a working title for Turn on the Bright Lights was Celebrated Basslines of the Future suggested by Carlos D of course). It’s all immediately identifiable as Interpol, and even if they can’t convincingly do “loose,” it’s at least dressed down. This is how Turn on the Bright Lights might’ve sounded from a band that looked and acted more like the Strokes.

But this isn’t a band that ever impressed through sonic innovation, or lyrics that speak to universal emotional truths, or inventive melodies, or even being cool; everything from the suits to the stylized typography to Turn on the Bright Lights’ lush production to the opening gigs for U2 smacked of effort and ambition. Despite the temptation to nostalgize Interpol as a bastion of a druggier, sexier, and more sinister version of indie rock that wouldn’t last a day in these more morally circumspect times, they essentially served the same purpose as the more benign and scandal-free War on Drugs or Tame Impala: They are a carefully curated vibe. It’s an elusive quality. At their best, Interpol speaks to the feeling of invincibility among the ruins of your life, rising like a phoenix from the ashes and coke residue of one’s early 20s. Or, on Antics, the seductive power of holding onto that ideal in spite of a growing body of evidence to the contrary.

For the past 15 years, Interpol have tried to either replicate this vibe or find another to replace it. The band is stuck in a Medium Mood, and most of the blame on Maurader lies with Fridmann’s mix; my burned CD copy of 128 kbps Turn on the Bright Lights mp3s had less digital clipping. Marauder was recorded to 2-inch magnetic tape without ProTools in the interest of recapturing some of the intuitive electricity of Bright Lights, but the actual mix is so compressed, doughy, and airless, it might as well come packaged inside a Grands! biscuit tin. That said, it’s certainly more appealing than their previous records, which were defined by their various forms of malaise. Marauder is the least-bad Interpol album in more than a decade, but that still doesn’t make it great. Interpol were once able to transmute urban ennui into something so transcendent, even the most sheltered and secure suburban kids understood. On Marauder, there’s a new kind of emptiness, of hearing an Interpol album that doesn’t really seem concerned with doing better than “good enough.”




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