Largely reinvigorates Django Django’s distinct sound.
On their sophomore album, Born Under Saturn, the celestially-minded art-rockers Django Django over-polished their DIY cosmic bricolage, reining in their quirky, experimental flourishes and slathering on grandiose production in an effort that, while not exactly a play for the mainstream, nevertheless seemed more coldly calculated than the freewheeling, sun-dappled ebullience of their Mercury Prize-nominated self-titled debut. The London quartet’s third album, Marble Skies, seems to split the difference, paring back some of the more unwieldly aspects of Saturn to hone their focus on the harmony-rich, sci-fi-infused psychedelic explorations that set them apart from their peers, while in the next breath making brief detours into electro-pop that begs from greater accessibility. It’s the latter approach that prevents Marble Skies from fully coalescing.
The album hits the ground running with its opening title track, cranking up the analog synths and cosmic effects, injecting dashes of Krautrock that resurface throughout the album and leaning heavily on Beach-Boys-meets-Beta-Band vocal harmonies that are squarely in the band’s wheelhouse (drummer and producer David Maclean is, after all, the brother of the Beta Band’s John Maclean). But from there, the band missteps with “Surface to Air,” a diversion into bouncy dancehall that would be difficult to pin down as a Django Django track if heard without context, especially given that lead vocalist Vincent Neff hands over the mic to guest Rebecca Taylor of Slow Club. While pleasant enough, the track never seems to get its feet under it and meanders along somewhat aimlessly, a problem that also afflicts the listless, shambling “Champagne” despite Neff’s best falsetto. Elsewhere, the otherworldly sci-fi imagery the band expresses such an affinity for can come off a bit heavy-handed, as on “Beam Me Up,” a track which lays down a deep, propulsive synth bass groove that partially excuses a clumsily on-the-nose Star Trek reference.
Marble Skies excels when the band drops the pop elements and embraces the DIY philosophy that made their glorious debut akin to picking up a broadcast from Neptune on a ham radio. “Tic Tac Toe” edges toward the surf rock sensibilities that pervaded Django Django but adds in a rockabilly vibe that, when coupled with cosmic pulses, results in a furious retro-futurist throwdown that’s as thrilling and satisfying as anything Django Django has ever recorded. The band goes almost full Krautrock on “Real Gone,” with noodling analog synths giving way to a thrumming, Kraftwerk-indebted beat, while the funky strut of “Further” and the psych-folk haze of “Sundials” repurpose vintage influences into a sound that remains forward-facing.
While it’d be imprecise to call Marble Skies a return to form, this third album does largely reinvigorate Django Django’s distinct sound, which was in danger of careening off the rails following an uneven sophomore effort. The band’s intrepid sense of experimentation is better served when they stick to their strengths—they’re much more adept at surf rock than they are at dancehall, for instance—but with its genre-blurring approach to music that thrives on otherworldly wavelengths, this third album’s crests outweigh its troughs.