Newsflash: achieving simultaneous critical and commercial success is freaking hard. Nailing just one is much easier and as such much more common. Case in point: the developers for FIFA 15’s soundtrack chose “Cocoon” from Catfish and the Bottlemen’s The Balcony – an album adored by Tumblr but received with far less enthusiasm by critics. On the flipside, the songs from Young Fathers’ Mercury Prize-winning Dead probably never stood a chance.
Let’s run those pesky numbers: Young Fathers earned more from winning aforementioned Mercury Prize (about $30,000) than they did from sales of Dead up to that point. The Balcony surpassed 100,000 units sold this March.
So it’s quite impressive when a band manages to sidestep the sales/acclaim split and hit both bullseyes at once. If you’re Django Django, you hit both with a debut album recorded in a bedroom. And if that’s not taking it to the next level, then what is?
That self-titled bedroom record sold nearly 100,000 copies in the UK, landed the band a Mercury Prize nomination and secured them a place on the bills for Bonnaroo, Primavera Sound and T in the Park. People – fans and critics – went wild for this album.
And now we have that album’s follow-up, on which Django Django proclaim that they have gained the ambition to match the furor. How else to explain aptly-titled album opener “Giant”, a sweeping cut nearly six minutes long? How to explain every track after “Giant”, each one steadfast in its determination to leave you feeling anything but underwhelmed? The fourpiece’s sophomore effort is, among other things, full. Those other things: brash, self-assured, and occasionally long-winded to a fault.
Long-winded aside, brash and self-assured are not necessarily awful qualities to possess, especially on a second album. Second albums offer necessary space where bands can (and should) realize the power and potential of their sound beyond the peaks and pitfalls of beginner’s luck and kneejerk hype. On their second album, Django Django sound very much like themselves, only this time their ultra-rhythmic blend of psychedelic rock and indie dance sounds extra confident. The proof: “Shake and Tremble” slides deliciously through a half-sultry, half-spiked groove with piano flair; “Break the Glass” bounces bright surf-guitar over a floorboard-rattling stomp and a xylophone. Both are irresistible.
These irresistible cuts set the bar high, and Born Under Saturn struggles to lift several songs to that standard. The approachable but uninspired “Beginning to Fade” precedes the phenomenal “4000 Years”, and the ricochet from meh to wow does the former no favors. Same goes for the overworked Tame Impala-esque “Found You”, unfortunately sandwiched between “Shake and Tremble” and the dark indietronica sparkle of “First Light”. The album lacks a middle ground, yo-yoing between subpar and well above average with abandon.
Balance exists elsewhere: Django Django’s ambitions stop short of turning haphazard. Sonically, their intelligent psychedelic vibrations never err on the side of pretentious, and their electronic persuasions enjoy prime space without overpowering the rock elements. It doesn’t take much to botch up a genre mash, but Django Django know better than to fall victim to the easy mistakes.
Born Under Saturn is a formidable effort, but it’s not a spectacular one. It doesn’t quite match find the electrified psych oomph of its predecessor, nor does it offer any obvious certainty regarding its role in their discography. The record demands postponed reevaluation. We ought to return to it with the benefit of hindsight, see it from a perspective that includes their third album. At present, we’re left with a painfully solid B grade.