Before Django Django dropped their self-titled debut in 2012, they were at a place where they had to specify on YouTube that their name had nothing to do with Django Reinhardt. Much has changed since then. Three years later, Tarantino’s Django Unchained is the far more likely reference called to the layperson’s mind when hearing the repetitive moniker of the (mostly) Scottish band. But Django Django has made a hell of a name for themselves in their own right. That debut album snagged the band a coveted Mercury Prize nomination, and the accolades poured in from both their native Britain and here across the pond. Their sunny harmonics and nerdy edge made for a Beach Boys-meets-Devo vibe, all saturated in cosmic psychedelia.

With a title like Born Under Saturn, you’d expect these celestial aspirations to continue for a band whose debut featured skyward-minded songs like “Hail Bop” and “Waveforms.” But the sophomore album keeps Django Django more grounded, for better or worse. The music doesn’t venture out to the fringes like it did on the debut, this less risky approach yielding a smoothly palatable if not nearly as addictive effort. But given their meteoric rise, Born Under Saturn doesn’t signify a crashing back down to Earth so much as an attempt to branch out. The results are good, not great.

The hypnotic vocal harmonizing is Django Django’s bread and butter, and they slather on plenty of that throughout the album. But by reining in some of their more avant-garde flourishes, Born Under Saturn sounds less jubilant, less experimental, less willing to throw in “everything but the rocket ship’s kitchen sink.” By stripping away the more Dick Dale-tinged surf guitar flourishes and shifting focus away from rolling beats, Django Django has created a more aerodynamic sound. But part of the fun of the debut was how it felt like the songs’ ragged edges could catch hold of the wind and sail you into rare air.

Saturn’s most interesting, if not always rewarding moments, come when the band throws curveballs. But even the more experimental shifts only flicker briefly before returning to safer terrain. “Shot Down” might be one of the best examples of this, as the track opens with a wholly sinister synth line that hearkens to some of Hot Chip’s darker diversions. The music resembles the sound of futuristic war planes thrumming overhead, but the sunny harmonics somewhat dilute what could be a monster track. Meanwhile, “Vibrations” throws in some springing electronics and world music inflections before giving over to a heavily Beach Boys-reminiscent chorus (the song is called “Vibrations” after all).

If Django Django would’ve pushed just a bit further there could be something truly remarkable here. “Shake and Tremble” may most resemble the grittier, jangly amalgam of influences that so defined the best moments on the self-titled debut. Rattling with a vigorous pulse, the track sounds a bit like “WOR” from the first album, but never quite breaks out into an all-out aural assault. “Found You” uses a sleepy pace to its advantage to really emphasize the impact of the harmonized vocals. “Giant” shambles along into instrumentally diverse territory, and lead single “First Light” follows its emphatic drumbeat to a gently sung chorus that approaches earworm status. But there’s still the lingering sense that Django Django pulls their punches.

At 13 tracks, Saturn falls victim to some filler tracks as well. This slump begins, appropriately enough, with “Beginning to Fade” in the album’s tail end, which comes off as muddled. And the off-kilter “4000 Years” uses a less than melodic riff and some ramped up cosmic effects that ultimately turn into an experiment gone wrong. Listeners approaching Born Under Saturn fresh, without the frame of reference of their superlative self-titled debut, may find plenty to like here. For that matter, few Django Django fans are going to kick this album out of their rotation. But the debut left me wanting to hear more, while the follow-up makes me wish for something more.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Check Also

Oeuvre: Miyazaki: Ponyo

Our goldfish-turned-human obtains her agency by adding to the human world the vibrancy of …