ALBUM REVIEW: Django Django ‘Born Under Saturn’

Django Django (so good they named them twice) had a lot to live up to in following up their barnstorming 2012 debut album.

django-django-born-under-saturnAfter all, people had been trying to create an album that struck a perfect balance between dance and guitar music ever since James Murphy lost his edge, and then four London lads popped up fully formed doing just that with the glinting, throbbing ‘Django Django’ (so good they named it another two times). Their sound was intellectual enough for a tour round the Tate modern and groovy enough for a tour round the dancefloor, much like a pair of horn-rimmed designer glasses with sweet-ass transition lenses.

But in trying to recapture lightning in a bottle, Born Under Saturn could very easily have found itself undone by the expectations placed on it. On the first initial few listens it’s easy to feel that there is nothing here as immediately attention grabbing as ‘Hail Bop’ or ‘Default’, but on the fourth or fifth spin it becomes apparent that Django Django’s second coming not only matches its predecessors achievements, but generally surpasses them.

Much like on Alt-J’s This Is All Yours, another album by a band who wowed with their academic reinvention of indie back in 2012, the singles are the exception to this lack of immediacy. ‘First Light’ is that rare gem, a flawless pop song that only becomes catchier with repetition. Its chorus fittingly sounds like a second dawning for the band, while the band’s ballsy decision to forsake their iconic minimalistic guitar style pays off dividends both here and on the piano-tastic second single ‘Reflections’, which also features some mind-blowing aural sax.

But unlike fellow library-rockers Alt-J, whose unlovable sophomore attempt actively avoided mining the same seams as An Awesome Wave, Django Django successfully understand and remould their distinctive sound as something infinitely more considered and mature over the course of the whole album, rather than just the singles. Once again the four piece steal every good idea from the 60s: sinister Simon and Garfunkel harmonies, Byrdsian surf guitar and slightly tarnished Village Preservation Society melodies; and feed them through the filter of infinite gurning to produce something totally unique, probably only comparable to The Beach Boys collaborating with The Stone Roses. But while Django Django’s debut sounded like this was created by accident by someone wandering around humming in his dressing gown eating cereal (which it was), this time round real thought has gone into adding a layer of subtlety to proceedings.

This refinement is not universal across the whole album: ‘Pause, Repeat’ feels forced, the musical equivalent of an estranged couple trying to reconnect over a fat stack of Hentai DVDs; while the false intro to ‘Shake And Repeat’ feels like a pointless attempt to retain a lo-fi vibe amongst a gooey swamp of generally sleek production. The album is also overlong, and the loss of some of the late album tracks would not be a great tragedy. But for each dud-note on Saturn there is a symphony of genius. ‘Shot Down’ embodies the band’s evolving mastery of groove and wouldn’t sound out of place soundtracking baseball-based massacres on the next Hotline Miami game, its urgent beat and whomping guitar juddering into a fantastic synth coda reminiscent of Justice at their most French; the aforementioned ‘Shake And Tremble’s chorus, though not as instantly catchy as it’s fellow singles’, burrows into your brain like a parasitic wasp, its harmonies buzzing round your brain until treated by some Eurasia; and it’s sister grower, opener ‘Giant’, contains a late-arriving guitar lick that sounds like a reincarnated sober Keith Richards. But the best song on the album is ‘High Moon’, which sounds like precisely nothing I’ve ever heard. Just listen to it. Now.

All in all, Django Django’s ‘Django Django Django Django’ (or, at least, that’s what I still think it should be called) is a triumph that not everyone will appreciate the first time round. Despite some growing pains, the band have eliminated the admittedly endearing scrappiness of their debut to create an incredibly considered body of work on which they sound markedly content without reverting to, ahem, ‘Default’. Their greatest achievement in an age of infinite emulation is that, until someone starts trying to copy what they do, this is a band who only really sound like themselves. 8/10

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