ALBUM REVIEW: Great American Painting by The Districts

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WRITTEN BY: Esther Landis

The Districts initially formed in 2009 in Lititz, PA, a town less than two hours outside of Philadelphia. The band’s original members played music together in high school, which led to the formation of the indie rock band The Districts. After self-releasing two EPs and their debut album, Telephone, in 2012, the band signed with Fat Possum Records in 2013 and have released every album with them since. The band’s current members are Rob Grote (vocals, guitar), Braden Lawrence (drums), and Pat Cassidy (guitar). 

On March 11, 2022, The Districts released their fifth album, Great American Painting. They have been releasing music for over a decade, so understandably, their sound has evolved from their earlier days. It’s not surprising that this album was the natural progression from their previous one, You Know I’m Not Going Anywhere (2020). Like most of the band’s discography, lyrical themes like introspection through past memories, the pain of trying and failing to find love, and striving to live life to the fullest are at the forefront of this album. 

The Districts released “I Want to Feel It All,” “Do It Over,” and “Outlaw Love” as singles in the months leading up to the full album. The day before the album’s release, they posted a video essay written by Rob Grote, the lead vocalist, that speaks on the band’s past and the inspirations that led to the creation of The Great American Painting. Grote says that from the beginning, he had a dream to create songs that “would be like paintings, great American paintings of love and loss, of triumph and failure. Some would be vivid stories, but they would also be fleeting impressions—like fireworks exploding or the vague ache of ancient longings.” 

The album as a whole feels rather flat and lacks a certain character that exists in the band’s earlier music. None of the songs are bad, but they all feel simpler than what The Districts have released in the past. There are a lot of similarities between each of the songs, with simple drum beats and uncomplicated guitar sounds. The impact of each individual song is also lessened because all of the songs are upbeat and drive forward, which doesn’t leave much room for variation. Plus, the overall sound of this album is further edited and polished than previous releases, so everything sounds more straightforward. That’s not necessarily a good or bad thing, but it definitely lacks some of the charming grit from their earlier days. I am admittedly a fan of The Districts, and I’ve loved each of their albums. This one is appealing, but for different reasons than some of their earlier songs. A person who likes the sound of their first album probably wouldn’t enjoy this one as much. 

There are still a few tracks that stand out and better showcase the band’s abilities. From the punchy start of the song, “White Devil” is guitar-heavy in a way that none of the other songs are. It’s peppered with guitar riffs that do a lot of back and forth with the vocals. Another stronger track on the album is “Outlaw Love,” a song about losing the love of someone who used to mean a lot to you. The slow addition of each new sound makes the song build in a really satisfying way. The last track on the album, “On Our Parting, My Beloved,” is the perfect fast-paced song for this album to end on. The bass drum drives the verses forward as Grote speaks on top, something The Districts haven’t really done before. 

Overall, this album fails in variation and depth in sound. All nine songs sound similar to one another, each lacking the character evident in previous albums. For someone who is a fan of The Districts’ previous releases, this album might be disappointing. Luckily, this album succeeds in providing nine upbeat songs that have a sense of nostalgia. Each song’s lyrics revolve around the ideas of trying to find love and doing one’s best to understand life and live it to the fullest.

Tracklist: 

  1. Revival Psalm
  2. No Blood
  3. Do It Over
  4. White Devil
  5. Long End
  6. Outlaw Love
  7. Hover
  8. I Want to Feel It All
  9. On Our Parting, My Beloved

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