Ever since their Mercury Prize-nominated eponymous LP, London-based psych-boppers Django Django have wrestled with a multitude of sounds, grappling krautrock, ‘60s psych, surf-rock, rockabilly and shimmering ‘80s synth-pop far from egregiously, ‘Marble Skies’ sees them couch all of their past sonic adventures and coalesce them succinctly into an intelligent-pop record.
The first album, both daring and magnetic, catapulted them from a humble, cut-and-paste art-school indie band to festival circuit veterans. ‘Born Under Saturn’ saw the group record in a larger, unnerving commercial studio setting, which resulted in a bloated, less-focused sophomore LP. ‘Marble Skies’ sessions pivoted back to a smaller, dustier North London studio where, it seems, creativity and focus were realigned.
Drummer and producer Dave McLean noticed a red marble-like sheet had encroached the sky while at Lollapooloza in Chicago in 2015, the band all stood in awe, the hot air bellowing beneath a monochromatic, crystalline sky. Stormy atmospherics peering through the balmy, summer sunshine is what their latest attempts to embody.
It’s this almost perfect oxymoron that charismatic lead-singer Vincent Neff circles back to throughout – embedded in the subtext, and the lyrics explicitly, are a deluge of references to climactic contradictions, air, heat, water, the ocean. The sun-bleached synths, grooves, harmonies give light to this concept as they collide with Neff’s foreboding lyrics, “We see the lightning, far out at sea/Walk down the beach, and teach me/Everything leads me, far out of reach.” (Beam Me Up)
What unfolds is hookier and more instantly memorable than Born Under Saturn. Pulsating, retro-futuristic dance-floor bangers like lead-single In Your Beat showcase the group at their most comfortable – poppy, danceable and beguiling. McLean’s past life as a techno DJ and the band’s post-formation warehouse party heyday help explain their deep-rooted appreciation of grooves and of inducing sweaty, foot-stomping hives.
Here, warm, soothing synths gently sway beneath clattering drum-claps as Neff’s swaggering falsetto glides. The hook, unlike the many crafted before it, needs only to float. Harping back to the overarching theme of heat and water, he sings: “Stepping out, away from a burning heat/The water we drink has never tasted this sweet/Fevered devotion, deep as the ocean.”
Champagne is subtly enchanting, a seemingly by-the-numbers, jangly, surf-rock tune that Jimmy Dixon’s bass oozes into and progressively casts under its spell. It grows in stature, Dixon’s bass serpentine, Neff’s vocals numbingly eerie. Tropical house, electro-dancehall gem Surface To Air uses the rhythm from dancehall Bookshelf Riddim and vocals of Slow Club’s Rebecca Taylor to create a mature, post-Drake dancehall-inspired pop song that comes off better than what might be expected.
Tic-Tac-Toe is an exercise in how to layer decades-old sounds and melodies without brushing off as garishly nostalgic. Sultry ’60s surf-rock melodies and galloping, antiquated percussion are welded in what is a certain highlight.
Melodies are often graceful and potent but surface level gratifications sometimes upend their unquestionable talents, the interpolation of a ’70s Jan Hammer piano riff in the gorgeous jazz-fusion Sundials underscores this, yet when you sink your teeth beneath the veneers of experimentation and far-reaching ideas, a message or emotion is unclear or incongruent. What Django Django internalise, more than most, is how joyous music ought to be, not what it should teach you, and that’s okay.
The redundant, worn-out rockabilly traits of Further are almost salvaged by Neff’s heightened sense of melody, yet, along with the pulsating techno-pop-turned-piano-balladry experimentation of Real Gone, these tracks capture the group’s predilection for novel ideas that are executed with relative conviction, but bereft of a driving heartbeat.
Despite ‘Marble Skies’ being their most fully-formed release to-date, Django Django appear forever destined to make beautifully flawed records. A carnival of oddball sounds and genre-busting experimentation has served Django Django well, but like a mediocre Tarantino flick, meaningful connections are often lost amid the colourful, blood-soaked fuzz.