The self-titled album: Split down the middle?

Brian sent me an email back in July asking some pretty challenging questions about Interpol’s self-titled album; his main question was this:

“What is the connection between the first half and second half of the album (If there is one)? And also, why do you think that the first half is so much more preferred than the second?”

Brian’s assertion is that the first half of Interpol (“Success” to “Barricade”) “is virtually one long track, mainly connected by Paul’s vocal melodies and guitar parts,” whereas the second half is something different, more complex.

This gets us into the shadowy realm of trying to understand, as Brian put it, that “very mysterious ‘Interpol sound’ that everybody knows yet can’t identify.” Of course we can never completely suss this out, but it’s fun to think about!

First half of Interpol’s self-titled album:

Pointing out the similarity of Paul’s vocal parts across the 5 first tracks (as well as Paul’s and Daniel’s guitar parts), Brian wrote “I feel like is that the first five songs are really the old classic, simple, repetitive Interpol.” (This sentiment was shared somewhat by Fly Magazine, which I talked about in this post.)

I certainly agree that, overall, the first half of the album contains more “standard” rock songs. Songs like “Success”, “Memory Serves”, “Summer Well” and “Barricade” all have a steady rhythm throughout, they’re fairly harmonically straightforward, and all have a clear build up to the chorus (of course because this is Interpol, all of these elements are more nuanced than in the usual rock song). The only exception, in my opinion, is “Lights”, which is more of a “slow burn” track; the song very gradually builds to the climax, and we don’t even get a drumbeat until 1:45.

Second half of Interpol’s self-titled album:

Brian continues,

“But the second half is something completely new…the transitions between keys much more unexpected and difficult to master…I’ve found that, two years after its release, that the remaining three of Interpol heavily favored the first portion at the shows, and that the fan base (and the critics) much prefer the first half of the record to the second.”

This is similar to what I’ve heard from people; my brother-in-law (a music producer) is a big fan of Interpol, but he doesn’t like how their last two albums end with “slow” tracks, meaning “All of the Ways” and “The Undoing”, which are also “slow burn” tracks (compare this to OLTA’s “Wrecking Ball” and “The Lighthouse”). Songs like “Safe Without” and “Try It On” aren’t slow, but their rhythms are definitely unconventional, almost dizzying in the way the off-beats are emphasized. And not just the drums, but the rhythms of the other instruments as well, so that the instruments interlock in complex ways, creating an extremely intricate metrical structure. And then there’s “Always Malaise” with its unusual 7 bar phrases and odd chord progression.

So, with the exception of “Lights”, I definitely agree that the self-titled album is pretty split down the middle, the first half being more straight ahead, and the second half being more experimental, particularly in terms of harmony (as Brian points out) as well as rhythm and meter.

But to answer Brian’s first question regarding the connection between these two halves, I would have to say the two main connecting factors are: 1. Paul’s vocal tracks (and the production overall), and 2. The polyphonic nature of all ten songs.

1. I feel like Paul has really hit his stride as a singer , and his vocal style throughout the album is incredibly consistent and polished; something I adore about Interpol is how much work Paul and the producer put into layering his lines to create a wonderfully nuanced vocal texture.

2. Each and every song on the album appears to have been written in a completely polyphonic style, by which I mean that the song is made up of uniquely individual lines (including the drums) as opposed to chords (homophony) and standard drum beats. No note or drum-hit is superfluous. Of course this polyphonic style is evident in all of Interpol’s albums, and indeed I think this is one of the components of Interpol’s “mysterious sound” that makes their music unique and also difficult for a lot of people to understand.

That’s all for now, I’m going to try to do more videos now that I’m getting used to my new schedule!


~ by megwilhoite on October 31, 2012.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: