It was thought that Interpol were steadily declining during their self-titled era in late 2010, that one of the major torch bearers of the post-punk revival was stumbling – perhaps never to get back up. The band went on hiatus shortly after.
With El Pintor, Interpol are back with a vengeance. Their time apart since the departure of long-time bassist, Carlos Dengler, seems to have helped immensely. In an interview with The Guardian, Dengler’s band mates said that he “really, really didn’t like the bass,” and quit because of that. Perhaps it was this lack of love and of passion that drove the band downward. With time apart, the band that recorded El Pintor sounds like a band that has fallen back in love with itself, and with the music that was at its core back in the days of Bright Lights and Antics.
El Pintor sounds very much like a return to this former style. A full circle. There is a wonderful heaviness to every track that gives it gravitas. It’s a wall of tremulous, melancholy sound that reverberates through your ears with a certain intensity. Most of all, the band sounds extremely tight. Every element, every instrument fades in, fades out, crescendos, stops in perfect harmony – each part complementing every other just as they are supposed to. If it weren’t done so well, it would be a criticism that the album has no rough edge to it. And similarly, while they might be criticised for simply reverting back to an old style and not innovating, it’s more a welcoming sigh of relief, like coming home.
That’s not to say that El Pintor sounds simply like a re-release of an old album – the B-sides off Bright Lights, perhaps. During their hiatus, the band members all pursued different projects, from seafood restaurants to hip hop mixtapes. The result is, of course, an injection borne from each. In the end result, they turn out to be elements that are utterly apart from Interpol and yet integrate fluidly. For example, the beats on Same Town, New Story certainly seem taken from the world of hip hop, and yet flow seamlessly alongside the dirgy vocals of Paul Banks.
On first listen however, the songs can sometimes feel as if they meld into one another, lacking distinct personalities. This feeling changes the more you listen to the album. The differences may be subtle, but they make themselves apparent. A particular stand-out track is My Desire, with some of the most memorable guitar hooks on the album and a rollercoaster of dynamic shifts. This track is followed by the slightly more subdued, beat-driven Anywhere, and both these tracks contrast with the urgency of Everything Is Wrong. Each track offers its own flavour of the classic Interpol style, crucially topped with these fresh elements and a new bassist.
El Pintor is a supremely polished, tight Interpol album – a welcome reprieve after their self-titled effort. Most importantly, however, is that it shows that they have far to go. They don’t sound like a seventeen year old band chasing past success. They sound like a fresh band, with all the energy and urgency of a debut record that promises great things to come.