Source Material: Interpol, Turn on the Bright Lights
by Stephanie Benson | September 5, 2012
More than a decade ago, The Strokes were riding a cool high as the new answer to rock (whatever that meant), reintroducing New York City as a prime breeding ground for retro revivalists and experimental indie rockers. And then out of the depths of the Big Apple came another sartorially shrewd bunch called Interpol, who turned that light onto a darker level of cool with their 2002 debut album, Turn on the Bright Lights. Like a rich and well-versed study of post-punk's most daring and innovative pioneers, the album helped kick start the genre's revival (see also: The Killers, Franz Ferdinand, Bloc Party, The Rapture, The Walkmen).
So, can we talk about Interpol's debut without mentioning Joy Division? Sure, but that'd just be taking a needlessly contrarian position, because there's no denying the similarities: that ominously pounding, staccato-paced rhythm section and damaged guitar jangle; Paul Banks' stoic drone, which fluctuates at the same sepulchral tremble as Ian Curtis'.
But post-punk goes well beyond that particular band, and so does Interpol's sound. J.D. reduced punk's brutal boil down to a stark and minimalist simmer, utilizing space as a way to create disquieting atmosphere. Interpol, meanwhile, fill that space with echoing, baroque, gothic, even wobbly psychedelic shades that are evocative of bands like The Cure, Echo & The Bunnymen and The Teardrop Explodes (see: "Untitled," "NYC," "Hands Away," "The New"). These nuances add density and warmth, often making the band sound greater than the sum of its parts. This can, in a way, even feel like a condensed and poppier version of dirge-rockers like Godspeed You! Black Emperor (a band Banks apparently loves).
You can also hear the noisy restraint of bands like The Chameleons and The Wedding Present in scrappier slices of punk like "PDA," "Roland" and "Say Hello to the Angels," which also hints at the wiry gallop of Josef K and the poppy jangle of The Smiths. Speaking of Morrissey, Banks' cryptic character sketches and psychosexual allusions feel a bit indebted to bands like The Smiths and The London Suede (see: "Obstacle 1," "Stella Was a Diver and She Was Always Down," "Leif Erikson").
This post-punk revivalism wasn't a totally novel thing, though. In 2002, Interpol helped bring to the States what a few notable bands in the U.K. were doing at the turn of the century. Tracks like "Hands Away" and "Roland" have that ominous creep and hollow drum-kick of Clinic, while the album's more balladic movements hint at Doves' grandiose guitar booms. But Interpol added their own touch, rolling the gritty neuroticism of their hometown into the fold: "The subway is a porno/ Pavements they are a mess/ I know you've supported me for a long time/ Somehow I'm not impressed/ But New York cares."
Below, we celebrate Interpol's breakout debut, tracing their influences -- from early '80s England up to early '00s America -- via post-punk's dark and thrilling path.